Tuesday, December 17, 2013

deviantART Spotlight

The artwork below is copyrighted to ranoartwork. I make no claim to this work as my own.

One of the many things I do to stem writer’s block and keep the creative juices flowing is surfing (insert link) deviantART. Just by checking out the most popular submissions over the last eight hours every couple of days is more than enough to give some flash of insight into a story arc that may be waiting to burst, or un-stall one waiting to carry on. It may not be a full-fledged story, but a component on one I’m currently working on – scenery scenes are spectacular for this. In my own way, I’d like to recognize these artists for truly amazing artwork, be it photography, ink on canvas, or manipulated photons in digital form.

Canaan by Ranoartwork

In doing the research for the upcoming novels in the Ochra Cycle, I'm always on the lookout for good, thematic scene pieces like this one.  In this particular case, it provides a stunning visual for a part of the plot that had thusfar been very vague.  I know I want to "go there," and yet the "there" that I'm referring to was never fully realized; it is much later and not a priority.  That said, this piece nailed the spirit of what I was looking for.

When my eldes daughter first saw Canaan by Ranoartwork, she immediately squeeled "Aladdin!"  Truth be told, this was one of my first thoughts as well, until I started overlaying my story's plot points.  The rendering of the colours and the scale are utterly gorgeous.  It shows a city in the midst of an utterly desolate landscape, a sky with no clouds.  The buildings in the foreground enhance the perspective that this is all part of a larger city.  What we see here is perhpas a central religious site, or a caliph's palace.  The people in the foreground are small, lacking detail and seem to be either observing themarvel of this palace, or heading towards it as if on a  pilgrimage.

In my story's case this is no longer a place of safety and security, not a place for a pilgrimage, certainly not a setting for anything from Alladin.  It is one of the focal points for the overall plot lines, a city far removed from the main setting of the storyline, a city state with a deep undercurrent of something dark and sinister - a trope that could be applied to any epic fantasy!  This piece helps reinforce that imagery for me.  The grandeur of the palace is a symbol of power and dominance, a will to overcome the elements and create something where humanity would otherwise never survive.  There is beauty to be found as well, of course: the architecture, the grandeur, the people and their culture, not all is corrupt and malignant.

I simply find Canaan to be a terribly well executed scenery piece, depicting a foreign culture and architetcure.  It draws you in and makes you want to tell the stories that occur in the back alleys, the politics and trading of favours and goods that make this city equally the cesspool it may be forced to be, as well as the oasis it strives to be.

For anyone interested, here is the link: Ranoartwork's DeviantArt gallery.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Dreaded Synopsis

I find it more than a little ironic that the thought of writing and submitting a full-length fantasy manuscript as something rather normal.  It's expected of a budding author to realize their vision by completing their novel, revising to the best of their abilities and submitting to agents and publishers that will take direct submissions.  I don't begrudge the process, I'll just promote it as a given, something I have little choice over; if they ask me to jump through hoops to get my manuscript published for others to read, who am I to argue with the key master.  These agents are, by virute of their position and influence, the best capable to influence the gate keepers, those publishing houses that are best positioned to action an author's dream - having others read and (hopefully) appreciate their work and ask for more.

I am at the point where I've gone through an exhaustive refresh of my dark/epic fantasy manuscript.  I've done my happy dance and am now looking to market it.  The query letter has been generated and re-edited dozens of times.  A list of agents in the appropriate field has been compiled.  All is set to start launching my letters and hope I can generate some interest in my project.

Or so I thought.

Now I realize I must return to the manuscript in an effort to create another document many if not most agents are requesting with a submission.  The dread synopsis.

Nothing seems more daunting than to try and filter the story elements down to a page or two.  In all honesty, I found the prospect less threatening than filtering my manuscript from a (very) bloated 188k down to the current ~90k.  I also look back at that project with much less trepidation than I do the synopsis.  The process is relatively similar, in that I have to cut out the excess and present the required elements, no less, no more.  I went from 188k to 90k.  I should be able to summarize 90k to 2 pages or so, right?

Here's where I currently am with my synopsis.

Enter the internet and some hefty browsing to research this additional craft: writing the synopsis.  A few websites have certainly assisted in alleviating some of my fears and questions on the process.  I'm still left facing the task of drawing the story down to its core elements and then ensuring the presentation isn't something that turns away an agent.  This unknown, of course, is the ideal scenario for a writer to second-guess himself into a downward spiral from which many simply walk away from their project.  As the expression goes, "You always fail at the tasks you never attempt."

Not one to ever back down from a challenge (something my wife can attest to), I've collected a few websites I found particularly helpful. 




And finally, the Internet Movie Data-Base website.  I know it's a bit of an odd one, but something that seemed to follow with the multitude of sites that offer examples of synopses.  Pick any movie you can think of and you can find a synopsis, which follows many of the examples you will likely find on any website that supports writing them.

I hope these provide anyone in my predicament some measure of comfort and guidance in their endeavours.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Trip to New York City

After much planning and some management of expectations, my wife and I joined two other couples for a long-weekend trip to New York City.  Leaving from two cities, the plan was to meet in NYC on the Thursday afternoon and run through a few pre-planned suppers and shows with ample free time to do some shopping and generally just take in the city.  With all our children staying behind under the supervision of their grandparents, three sets of moms and dads blissfully recalled/relived life prior to becoming parents.

Fog and Delays:  The two other couples were lucky enough to leave and arrive prior to the fog getting really bad.  A spike in the temperature basically fogged in the airports at Newark, La Guardia and JFK, delaying a lot of flights and cancelling many others.  After three abortive attempts to reschedule into later flight (along with everyone else), we finally opted to catch the first flight the next day.  We got the last room in the hotel at the terminal.  After showering and relaxing a bit, we ended up getting drinks at the hotel bar and supper at the restaurant.  Needless to say copious amounts of alcohol finally settled the nerves; we really needed those drinks, at one point both my wife and I nearly pushing one of the American security officials a little too far with our attitude.  Travel Tip:  Call the cancellation service for your airline before you reserve at any hotel.  They can save you a fortune on the room rate, something they can’t or won’t do after you’ve checked into a room.  In our case, we could have saved over $200 on the room.

9/11 Memorial Tour:  We finally made it and hooked up with one couple at Macy’s, which was blissfully empty on Friday.  Collecting at the 9/11 Memorial site for noon, we took the tour.  Being a member of the CF, I can say this was a humbling experience, akin to visiting the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, the memorial at Thiepval or the MeninGate Memorial (Note 1).  The site security is just like entering an airport, something my wife and I were terribly familiar with at this point (bag in tray, empty pockets, remove shoes-belt-watch, display dog tags for scanning).  Once on the sight, memories of that tragedy take on a whole new meaning, particularly when you look up-up-up at the Freedom Tower and imagine two of those crumbling down around you.  Travel Tip:  Definitely pre-register for the walking tour, as you bypass the hundreds of people just looking to get in; prepare for some dagger-like stares as you walk down the express lane.  You also get the survivors’ experience and insight on the events that took place after the impacts.  In our case, we had a woman reduce the majority of our group to tears.  Bring tissue for the Memorial Exhibition – you’re gonna’ need ‘em.

Note 1:  During a Canadian Forces sponsored battlefield tour, I had the honour and the privilege to not only witness but participate in this daily ceremony.

FAO Schwarz:  Honestly and truly, I got nothing.  This place is so over the top of a toy store, yet in a good way.  Take the largest Walmart you can think of, divide in two and place one half on the other to make two storeys, replace **EVERYTHING** with toys and candy, and that may give you an indication of how overwhelming that experience could be.  So close to Christmas, it seemed obvious we should get our children and niece something.  The gargantuan problem was what to get and still have room in our bags for anything more than a toothbrush.

Club 21 / Nutcracker / Campbell’s Apartment:  Only the second time to NYC, we recommended Club 21 to our friends and the experience could not have turned out better.  The ambiance is amazing, the staff incredibly accommodating and easy-going.  Our sommelier was an absolute hit, recommending a few wines off the list we were looking at.  After asking what everyone ordered, he paired us with a white and red that sang with our food.  Travel Tip:  If you are visiting NYC and can meet the dress code, which isn’t anything extraneous, make yourself the time to eat here.

After a great meal and lots of liquor, my wife and I went our own way to see the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet.  Our taxi driver got us to the Lincoln Center exactly three minutes prior to the show.  Once seated, we realized maybe enjoyed a smidge too much liquor; that said, the show was phenomenal!  The production, outfits, the dancing, all of it was top-notch.  Definitely something we will be taking our two girls to go see once they get a bit older.  Travel Tip:  Friday night traffic means long wait times to get a cab, and long drives.  We were lucky not to have to wait for the first scene to end and the lights to dim before we could go in.  By the way, don’t try to take pictures in the Lincoln Center; they politely but firmly remind you of their policy.
After our ballet, we met our friends at Campbell’s Apartment for a final couple of cocktails.  It was later at night on a Friday, so I was not too surprised to see it was well occupied.  We lucked out and got a table up in the balcony overlooking the bar proper, which meant we were both secluded from the throngs and somewhat muffled from the massive decibel output from below.  I tried a couple of single-malts I was looking at, quickly striking one from my 'Buy and Try' list; just not worth buying the bottle.

Last Day:  Our final day was largely relaxed, dropping by Macy’s (Travel Tip:  Macy’s on a Saturday near Christmas is simply foolish, with scenes resembling Black Friday) and then going through the Bryant Park Christmas Market.  We did a walking tour of 5th avenue and the Christmas decorations, the tree at Rockefeller, followed by a nice supper before retiring to the hotel bar for a bit.  Only thing left was packing for out return trip and ensuring the two alarms and wake-up call were set.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Omnibus Post

Since I don’t have one all encompassing subject, I thought I’d throw down a few things to catch-up.  

Sickness Absolutely Sucks:  First and foremost, the last twenty days have sucked.  A dry, hacking cough that comes in spells, they last for upwards to two minutes straight.  At the end of it, I’m curled up into a ball, my stomach crying out like I just finished 500 sit-ups, face flushed and eyes bloodshot.  Sounds like fun, right?  I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.  It got so bad that I started scaring my girls; while I was on all fours trying not to die, my youngest got the courage to come and rub my back, consoling me that ‘everything will be alright.’  Cute, right?  

One particularly bad night found me bruising several ribs and straining my diaphragm, making it pretty hard to breathe and near impossible to sleep.  After watching one of my bouts, the doctor pretty much just confirmed I didn’t have pneumonia and prescribed a narcotic cough suppressant (goodness doesn’t methadone work like charm); sure made going to work an unusual experience.  Three doctors later and I am still coughing like an idiot.

Frustrating NaNoWriMo:  As a result of the previous issue, my NaNoWriMo has so far been a bust.  Its pretty hard to commit to writing when all you want to do every waking minute is go to sleep.  And stop coughing.  It’s not that I don’t have the material to work with, just neither the will or the physical capability to concentrate long enough to capture what I would.  Things have improved enough for me to work on this blog post, which means I will soon be addressing my significantly deficient contribution to NaNoWriMo.  Do I think 50k is doable?  Likely not, but I’m gonna’ give it my damndest, despite work.  I may have to cut back on the cough suppressant and just hope my body is near done fighting this bug off.

Work Life:  Normally fairly hectic and occupied throughout the day, there are bouts of time where I’m suddenly without anything critically occupying my time.  Under these circumstances I typically open up whatever I’m working on at the time and throw down whatever I can in the time I have.  Most recently a rash of documents and administration seems to have eaten away these pockets of time.  Next week I’ve been requested/tasked to run a Base-wide security training exercise.  It’s been a while since I’ve been in an operational context and I’m looking forward to getting back to tradecraft and pointy-end of stick activities.

Queensryche:  I’ll admit that the Empire album (released 1990) had some absolutely spectacular tunes.  The depth and impact of the lyrics, combined with the soaring (and sometimes haunting) voice of Geoff Tate made this one of my favourite bands during that era.  For almost two decades though, I completely lost touch with their music.  Not until a recent trip of reminiscence on YouTube did I come across Silent Lucidity, one of their greatest hits.  I then did a quick search to discover the factions that split the band.  That said, I spent some time searching for the songs on their recent albums and have to say that the addition of Todd La Torre has rekindled the older vibe, and quite frankly, rekindled my interest in the band and their music.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Making Lemonade From Lemons

So, as any parent will attest to, Halloween has come and gone.  The build up for this event for smaller children is, in some cases, just shy of that for Christmas.  In my case, my two girls, princesses both (in real life and by virtue of their costumes), were ramped up to the max, to the point of near intolerance from my wife and I.  That said, they were promised a good go, so off went my wife to escort them, while I stayed at home handing out the candy.

Not my child, but a pros pos
Part of the tradition of Halloween is getting dressed up for school, or in the case of my youngest, daycare.  On the way to daycare, she snapped her plastic wand in two.  In the midst of traffic, I’m sure every car within throwing distance heard the commotion.  For my part, I tried consoling the child for a couple of minutes and then simply turned up the radio volume.  After about five minutes of screeching (no simple crying for this child), she suddenly stops.  I’m adjusting my rear view mirror to ensure she didn’t go and decide to try and choke herself on a piece of plastic, or some other silliness.

With the two pieces of plastic in her hands, tears still rolling down her cheeks, she’s smiling and staring wonder at the two pieces and gives me this: “Daddy, now I have TWO magic wands!”
And despite how frustrating they can be at times, it is at moments like these that you have to smile and think everything is good and right in life.
Edit:  Same child, after 90 minutes of door-to-door candy-grabbing, she enters the house, plops down and says, “Daddy, I’m tired!”


So, I decided to take the plunge this year and registered for NaNoWriMo.  It’s two days into the month and neither my mustache for Movember nor my novel for NaNoWriMo have seen much progress.  I’ve got some sketched out chapters and outline plots to flesh out, but nothing on paper due to some fangled illness.

Given the previous anecdote of my daughter, I can’t help but realize that 4 weeks is actually a decent amount of time to get things done.  The target of 50k words is daunting enough, but something I’m going to try my damndest to complete.  Not wuite a ‘two magic wands’ kind of statement, but a commitment nonetheless.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

One Down: Two to Go....

Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring

A short while ago I found myself with a fairly light reading stack and decided to tackle a project I had been contemplating for some time, yet never got around to.  The task was daunting and I was biased against re-reading the Tolkien classic, Lord of the Rings, because of how difficult I remembered it.  Let me be honest, the thought of skipping over parts to simply immerse myself into the film adaptation was incredibly powerful.  Each time I consoled myself that it would get better and the accomplishment of reading the trilogy would compensate.  I can’t say I was wrong.

This certainly won’t be a critique of the work, because the plot is well known and been reviewed in far better detail by far more qualified people than I.  Instead I’ll concentrate on what I took out of it and some key notes.

Scene from Bladerunner, a movie
that added to the written work
First things First: Comparisons of Tolkien’s prose to Steve Jackson’s films are obvious and in many ways an entirely appropriate filter for the reader.  The imagery conveyed was incredibly complementary to the written works, an achievement I would think both Jackson and the Tolkien family are immensely proud of and happy for.  Having seen the film trilogy, it is impossible not to make the visual reference to the cinematography as you read.  The only other SF/F film adaptation I can recall off the top of my head with any kind of success and relevance to the original written work is Bladerunner; despite deviations from Philip K. Dick’s written plot, the movie itself was an absolute masterpiece.  As an aside, the most astounding failure would have to be Starship Troopers <shudders>.

Scene from a movie <cough> that failed
in almost every respect compared to the written work

The prose for Fellowship of the Ring is dense and takes a while to get accustomed to.  Written in Third Person Omni, I liken it to The Last of the Mohicans, which appears to be written in a way to be read out loud, the descriptive elements almost better spoken aloud than simply read.  It is relatively easy to see why a new reader to epic/high fantasy would turn their nose after trying to read one of the most revered books of the genre.  Tolkien’s work is certainly not for everyone and I could sympathize why new-to-the-genre readers would turn away.  The pace at the beginning of the novel is slow, introducing the Hobbit worldview and way of life.  Combined with the style of prose, it can be a tough read.  This said, once the ‘code’ is cracked, the prose becomes a character in and of itself, an innate luxury to the plot that draws you further into Middle Earth.

Some key elements to the Fellowship that made specific impact:

Tom Bombadil:  Apparently removed from the film version, largely due to pacing, film length and budgetary reasons, I can see why.  Frodo and gang leave The Shire escaping the dark riders only to be forced into a nasty little forest, complete with Hobbit-eating trees; Tom sings to said tree, setting them free.  Tom also assists in dealing with the Barrow Wight, once again through song.  For Tom everything is a reason for a sing-along jingle, like a guy desperate to get to the nearest karaoke and just decided to sing along while he went to one.  Most shocking for me was the fact Tom Bombabdil knew Frodo had the ring, and then placed it on his finger to no effect.  Elrond’s reference to Tom also makes for somewhat bizarre reading; one of the ageless and most wise has little other than to add Tom’s an ‘odd sort.’  One of Tom’s most evocative lines does get used, spoken by Treebeard as he describes his wrath for the Orcs in the cinematic version of The Two Towers.  In Tolkien’s own words, Tom is more a concept, a characterization of pacifism in a post-WWII world.

Flight from the Village of Bree:  In the cinematic version, the Nazgul send four of their kind in to assassinate the Hobbits in an incredibly stirring sequence.  The book draws out some shenanigans with the residents of Bree and has Aragorn lead them to Amon Sul, but not before getting lost in the woods and eventually heading back to the East Road and finally meeting Glorfindel at the Ford of Bruinen near Rivendell – notably not Arwen.

The Mines of Moria:  In this case, I completely believe the cinematic version outshines the written original.  The visuals, the pacing and tone were excellently done.  From the deep dark recesses throughout, to the Cave Troll battle and ultimately the fantastically rendered “You Shall Not Pass!” sequence and sense of loss the party suffered as they fled was terribly well conveyed.  Some parts of Jackson’s work I found entirely forgettable: the Frodo/Aragorn balance beam-bridge sequence, as well as the way the goblins literally spider their way down the columns in the Second Hall.

Lothlorien – Tale of a Dwarf and an Elf:  One of the pieces of Tolien’s work I found infinitely more enjoyable was the relevance of Galadriel’s presence on Gimli.  She profoundly impacts Gimli, and he her.  Although a generally sheltered time for the party, it allowed a much needed convalescence after suffering the loss of Gandalf, their guide and defacto leader.  The connection these two formed is relevant in further portions of the trilogy and helps form one of the key points that build on Gimli and Legolas’ friendship.

Death of Boromir:  The end faced by Boromir was tragic and wrenching.  A proud man looks to find a solution to the impending doom his people face, the raging bull behind the Iron Curtain, so to speak.  So greatly portrayed by Sean Bean, the cinematic version was true to the emotional impact of Boromir’s sacrifice.  A flawed Man who saw a means to an end that was too much for him to handle, he redeemed himself in as glorious a fashion a man like him could have.  I was ecstatic to hear Sean Bean would play Boromir and could not have been happier with the acting. Along with Gandalf’s fall, I think Bormir’s sacrifice is one of the two most poignant and moving parts of the film.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading the Fellowship of the Ring.  After a slow start and a bit of a slog through to the village of Bree, the flow really picked up after the council of Elrond.  I actually breezed through the last part of the book and headed straight into The Two Towers right after.  I’m finding that the experience of reconnecting with one of the quintessential books of the genre as really invigorating.  I will never attempt to meet the level of complexity Tolkien achieved in his world building and use of language, whether it is English of something entirely made up; it would be a disingenuous and, no doubt, a truly disastrous affair.  

As I write this, I’m actually already halfway through The Two Towers.  I can’t wait to get back to it.

An interesting link to the NYT review of the book’s American release in 1954.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Musical Muse

One of the major detractions to my writing in the past two weeks is finally out of the way. I recently celebrated with a special martini mix (definitely not for the faint of stomach) and liked it so much I had two.  Life was really, really good that night and has since returned to some semblance of normalcy. I can now devote some time to writing, editing and other creative activities.

One of my recent discoveries is a musical channel within Youtube.  One of the most powerful sets of musical compositions are sometimes the shortest.  The musical scores linked into movie trailers can really make or break interest into a film.  As epic fantasy and science fiction goes, I think we benefit from a bevvy of applications, where muscial scores tied to key pieces of cinematic sequence can really drive you into a story.

Working to get my epic/dark fantasy ms out, as well as working on the subsequent works, I found music to be a real source of inspiration.  This gold mine of shorts will definitely be a constant for future projects.  I invite you to listen to the video below and imagine the trailer for your own novel (fantasy, sci-fi or otherwise); I challenge you to not get excited about your work.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hell Weeks Are Done!

The recipe to my current level of glee (or at least as of last night):

Francois' Martini:

- 2 parts Citrus Vodka (chilled)
- 1 part Regular Vodka (chilled)
- 1 part Cointreau
- 1 part Triple Sec
- 1 part Vermouth
- 6 drops of Aromatic Bitters

Mix into shaker and serve.  Have a second one.  Life is grand.

Note:  Decorative fru-fru to your own tastes and preferences.

Not much at all happened in the way of writing these last two weeks, at least not creatively.  I wrote a lot, but all in the context of assisting in a series of harassment allegations in an incredibly complex and delicate scenario involving over a dozen possible people in another unit.  Needless to say, this was my sole focus from start to end of my days.  The only respite came from continuing my reading of The Lord of the Rings to relax before going to bed; currently the Company is set to enter Moria and they're trying to figure out the gate.

After completing the documentation and handing it in, I finally have some respite.  Now it's time to get back to some creative writing!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Elven Hauteur: Tropes Given Definition

One of the many (many) tropes a reader can expect from any high/epic fantasy is the inclusion of a variety of mystical and mythical races; dragons, elves, dwarves, just to name a few.  If the novel includes elves (I suppose more a question of when), there is almost certainly an element of cultural hauteur involved.  Elves are portrayed to have chip on their shoulder, a sense that even speaking with humans is beneath them, somehow a chore.  Like humanity was a stray dog quietly pacing around a picnic table, accepted as being there but not really accepted for being there.
When I was scratching notes during my world building phase, one of the many things I needed to work was, of course, where and how the elves would fit into the story.  What relevant parts of their history could I weave into the narrative without containing some dreaded info-dump?  Would they have this seemingly ubiquitous stigma against the other races?  If so, two questions that I assured myself I would answer were: “How?” and “Why?”
World building can quickly become a rabbit hole that you can find yourself too deeply dug into.  Thankfully, this wasn’t one of them, partly because of a previous effort to determine the pantheon of gods and their conflict.  This conflict occurred millennia ago, and a single piece of scribble seemed to answer most of my questions:
“the elves were created by and were the primary fighting force of the Second Pantheon.”
Someone or a group from amongst the Second Pantheon of gods created the elves as part of the feye races, imbuing them with abilities, intellect and characteristics that made them particularly powerful as a race – not individually the most powerful, but collectively they produced the greatest synergies amongst the feye.  They were the most intelligent of generals, the most powerful of the mages, etc.  They fought this war alongside the other feye (dragons, treants, nymphs, etc) and their gods, against the First Pantheon who used and led their creations, the less refined but more physically powerful races (leviathans, orks, goblins, etc).
“All this occurred before humans were even conceived as a race.”
This note, along with the previous one provided the perspective I needed.  The cultural hauteur exists in context to their experiences in those god-wars and watching the humans crawl into existence, collect into tribes and eventually form the kingdoms/collectives in the current setting for my manuscript.  For all intents and purposes, the elves in Ihr’Vessen are the only super-power in existence, and they recently had to make room for the humans.  They still see the humans as lesser beings that have yet to live up their potential and possibly vie for overall stewardship of the realms.  Are the humans of the J’in Empire prepared for the task?  Can the clans of the Plainsfolk assume the mantle of responsibility?  Would the barons of the Free States suffice?
For all interaction between elf and human, a certain paradigm had to occur, one where humanity was at a distinctly perceived disadvantage (from both perspectives); the same would need to occur with the other races, in some cases much less so than others.  Humans would be viewed as inferior, not yet worthy of respect; humans conversely have a minority complex, always viewing themselves as less capable and less powerful.  They may be approaching parity, but not as of yet.  And so, I was left wondering how this arc would or could play out into the narrative.  I had some fun at my characters’ expense when humans started interacting with elves, but the progression of this worthiness was something I wanted to explore.  Humans start at about a mongrel level of expectation and acceptance.  Slowly, I want to see how that could be altered or changed.
For now, the elves remain the haughty, cool and indifferent bunch they always seem to be.  They are so much better at things and so much more powerful, long-lived and capable than the flash-in the-pan accumulation of knowledge and power the humans are limited to.  Would many of the elves consider it beneath them to interact with humans?  Likely.  Would they see any military intervention as simply “saving the humans from themselves, yet again?”  Very likely.  Hopefully this is a two-dimensional trope I’ll be able to somehow twist and bend a little, provide the reader with the context they need to accept the elven perspective, as opposed to simply slapping the reader with the ‘elves are l33t!’

Monday, August 26, 2013

Commitment to Reading LOTR

Every once in a while I have few to no books in my reading pile.  During these times I sometimes take a dive into my library and re-read a particular book or series.  Recently this took me back to the land of Fianovar and Guy Gavriel Kay’s masterpiece Arthurian triology, as well as the Warhammer 40k universe, in particular the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies by Dan Abnett.  Looking through my current library, a series stood out as having been read the one time, but never re-read.

J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I only vaguely remember the details of my first time through the realms of Middle Earth.  The one thing that stood out was a sense of accomplishment.  That was a hard, slog of a read at times, more so because the language is so incredibly dense and complex compared the normal fare of fantasy literature at the time. 

 With that in mind, I’ve decided to revisit Middle Earth and the heroic deeds of the Fellowship, from reading on the history of Hobbits through to the final destruction of Sauron and the raising of the King of Gondor.  

After reading the first dozen or so pages, something stood out amongst all that fine print: the races are all capitalized.  What would today be an elf is Elf to Tolkein, hobbit is Hobbit, et cetera.  This made me wonder when and where the current conventions against capitalization occurred, if at all.  One simply doesn’t repeat another author’s style simply for convention.  I distinctly remember some initial critiques on my fantasy ms that pointed out the fact that Elves were elves, despite the reasoning behind it.  I’m still tempted to return and re-edit the capitals back into the Elf, and the surprise to find it in Tolkein’s work just may be the nudge required to do so.

In any case, let the Tom Bombadil tangents begin!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Reviewing Woes

Going through the ms for OF DESOLATION AND OMENS, I realized something of a glaring oversight regarding one of my two protagonists.  Tori’i Soki is the daughter of the Emperor, and from her introduction, the sole heir after a nasty assassination of her older brother, Tori’i Hakata.  I had never intended to be coy about her particular age, so I simply pegged her at 16 to 18 years old.  Trying to develop the voice of a girl of this age isn’t so much a problem as a kick to the teeth sometimes; one of the primary purposes of this revision. 

One of the elements of a young woman of this age and in her position would be the continuation of the dynasty.  A quick and simple solution would have been to concentrate on the Hakata elements of primogeniture and simply say this was where the Emperor was hedging his bets.  Unfortunately this still ignores Soki as a viable match to someone in the J’in Empire.  This courting process would likely include complex and motivated pieces of political manoeuvring, particularly from the families of the potential suitors as they vie to make their ‘candidate’ the most desired match.

As an added element to the social structure to the story, it also adds a layer of complexity to the character I realized is lacking.  This isn’t an over-arching problem that forces a re-write.  I have the solution which will limit the impact, but the fact that such a glaring issue could have gone unseen simply underscores the need for new eyes on an a project, be it a beta or looking at your own ms after a sufficient period of time.

Ho hum.  Time to review my research notes for Japanese and Chinese courting rituals.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Vacation Post

After a couple of weeks on vacation, I can honestly say it felt longer, and in a good way.  Not your normal complaint, to be sure.  A few select stories and events that summed up the bizarre, highs and lows from a great vacation.

Snake Kills Two Kids in Campbelton: A bizarre news story that first reported the incident occurred in Moncton, instead of Campbelton.  When they mentioned Moncton, I was almost certain I knew which store was involved; this store was rather infamous for high turnover of ownership and some shady puppy mill rumours.  These larger species snakes are by no means banned but they require a permit and registration with the province, largely to ensure animal control and the local authorities are aware the thing is there.  This also provides inspectors the authority to ensure the animal is properly stored, properly cared for and not a risk to owners or anyone else.  Despite all that, for such a bizarre event to occur would require a series of maladjusted decisions to occur.  We’ll let the police investigation to conclude whether charges are to be laid, et cetera.

Grandpa Visit:  Last remaining grandparent, the man is an aging 86.  He recently suffered from a bout of pneumonia and other complications led to a throat infection.  Nothing serious, except for a guy of 86.  He lost weight from a skeletal frame, was weak, prone to dizzy spells, the works.  When I called to ask about a visit, he was heading to the hospital to see a doctor and the only thing he was concerned about was making a recovery to let me come visit and order up some sandwiches from Jarry's Smoked Meat and have some beers.  About three days later I paid a visit and he was a new man; mind over matter with the aid of pharmaceuticals.  That said he hoofed down a quarter of a sandwich from my uncle’s order.  Not too shabby for an octogenarian. 

Smoke meat, the sandwich that cures all ails!
Ottawa:  Went for a quick visit to the nation’s capital to visit my wife’s cousin, her husband Yves and their two daughters.  The four girls together are absolute bedlam.  I don’t care what anyone says about boys versus girls for energy; these four were ready to put no less than three of the four parents into traction.  Yves took me to House of Gorgie Sorento's, a central core pizzeria where they served a pepperoni pizza slice with their own gravy.  My wife and her cousin thought it was nuts, disgusting, revolting, pick your adjective.  I’ll simply use the one word I thought of after my first bite – divine.  The owners were a pair of characters as well.

Shovelled 30-tons of Crushed Rock:  Yep, my physiotherapist is going to lose her shit wfxith me tomorrow when I explain what I did; my spinal surgeon would likely kill me; my wife is not amused with me; my mother-in-law is most definitely not amused with my father-in-law.  The entryway to my father-in-law’s cabin is approximately 400 meters long, with crushed gravel along the wheel wells; every five years or so we have to order a truckload of “crushers dust” to cover the wheel wells.  This year was particularly necessary at year five because of a few heavy rains.  Instead of the usual one truckload, we got twice the tonnage.  I made evenly spaced piles for him, so he could rake them into the paths properly.  Yeah, I shovelled and wheel-barrowed thirty tonnes of rock on my vacation.

Night of the Assassins:  Book 2 of the Ochra series, I reworked the first six chapters.  Introducing a character originally cut from the first book, it shows the peasants’ perspective from a Yubari survivor.  It was a nice change to throw work in what I believed a ‘lower caste’ would envision of the invasion and the political manoeuvring within the J’in Empire and how it impacted them, despite not having a voice in the matter.  The next step is to revisit Tagaretsu’s perspective and flesh out what the Elves are doing.  Soki’s bit requires a bit of fleshing out, so I’ll take my time storyboarding her chapters – she is going to have a rough go in this one.

World War Z:  I just finished reading the Max Brooks novel World War Z.  I’m not a huge fan of horror, but this is one book I would highly recommend to anyone into spec fiction.  Told in a non-narrative format, it recounts the Zombie Apocalypse after the fact.  The individual accounts are stirring and with the notable exception of two or three character scenes, entirely plausible; those two exceptions are likely a simple subject-matter ignorance (lack of knowledge) in military and naval capabilities.  Quite frankly it did little to detract me from the overall narrative.  Here’s how good this book is; at my father-in-law’s cabin, I had no less than six sleepless/fitfull nights as every noise and creak at night drove me to imagine my reactions to a zombie invasion – what weapons would I use?  Where would we run?  Is the off-shore island safe?  Where would we get/steal food and gasoline?  How effective would that sickle in the shed be?.  My frikkin’ overactive imagination played tricks on me.

Def Leppard’s Hysteria Album:  Every once in a while I like to pull out an old CD and throw it into the player.  I’ve rediscovered the total awesomesauce that is the Def Leppard Hysteria Album.  This thing is golden, from track 1 through to the end.  There simply is no mediocre song in there; one of the quintessential rock albums from the 80’s.

Monday:  Back to work.  Yeah....

Friday, August 2, 2013

Star Wars Screen Crawl as a Query Letter?

Opinion of original series is undaunted as one of the best sci-fi trilogies made to date.  It was such a significant contributor the genre and film making in general that it was one of the first movies the United States Congress decided to preserve in their Congressional National Film Registry.  This trilogy is particularly important when realizing the technology of the day compared to how well they (Lucas, et al) pulled it off; even today the special effects largely hold up to modern day expectations.  The only exception I could think to include would be all those additional, extra scenes that Lucas added, as well as most of the ‘enhancements’ add years later.  Many current sci-fi movies suffer from an over-reliance on CGI, to the point where it seems the story revolves around what a computer programmer could accomplish, the script written thereafter to include said scene.  I personally believe that Lucas drank a little too much of the Kool-Aid and became a victim of his own success.  The prequel trilogy (shudders) would be an ideal example of this problem, my opinion on those films clearly demonstrated here.
The key thing I noted was how the opening paragraphs (screen crawl) seemed to equate the elements of a great query letter:
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….
Originally a six paragraph text, Brian de Palma helped edit it down to the current, concise introduction.  As a query letter, it would fall extremely short on length (only 83 words), yet it answers the three basic elements:  What does the protagonist want?  What must they do to accomplish it?  What happens should they fail?
It serves as a great introduction to the film.  In this case, viewers already paid their tickets, so there was no purchase-wall to break through.  Query letters must gain the attention of the agent or publisher to continue into the opening scene, or request that partial.  Without knowing much about the plot, the screen crawl sets up one of the best opening scenes in cinematic history, patrons immediately drawn into the conflict.
Albeit a different craft altogether, that of writing and movie making, the concept of targeting emotional investment is identical. As the screen crawl skims down to a shot of the orbit around the planet of Tatooine, we suddenly have a space craft fly over, followed by a sudden flurry of laser bolts and an even bigger ship chasing them.  We are thereafter just launched into the story that the screen crawl developed.  Princess Leia is fleeing, in a much smaller ship, while the weighty bulk of the Empire chases her down.  We know that Princess Leia has the stolen plans and is fleeing the Empire’s agents, her goal nothing short of the galaxy’s freedom (I’m sure some would call this overly ambitious). She must return with the plans, the fate of worlds (literally) at stake should she fail.
In what is ultimately an ensemble cast, it struck me that the opening teaser and what I am essentially equating to a query letter should center on Leia.  Knowing the way the film works out, from a query letter perspective it would almost seem to make more sense targeting Luke’s point-of-view.  From what I’ve been gathering from various sources and websites, that may not be the case, particularly given the way the film starts; the opening chapter is of Leia’s flight from the Empire.  We don’t even see Luke until perhaps 30 minutes into the film!
When I compare my epic fantasy manuscript to the Star Wars screen crawl and the opening scene (Chapter 1, so to speak), I’m left with likely the same problem Lucas had before Brian de Palma came in and tightened the text.  My query letter currently centers on the two primary characters, each with an equal weight in space and impact on the overall plot; there are several reasons for this, centered on future events I hope I’m able to get to.  I’m still curious whether this is an obstacle with agents and/or publishers.  The temptation is to reduce the query letter to one central character, be it Soki and her issues at the Imperial Courts through to her escape of a coup and the aftermath, or Tagaretsu who must escape from the goblin invasion and grasp at even the possibility of an item that may save the empire from complete collapse.
At this point, the efforts are centered on the second book.  Is my query letter polished enough to go out?  Maybe.  It’s had a go through the AbsoluteWrite forums before, with varying degrees of response (and success depending on who you listen to).

Friday, July 12, 2013

I Saw a Bug

An interesting event happened recently; I categorize it as interesting, because otherwise I’d have to call it a near crap-my-pants-in-abject-fear-in-front-of-my family event.  I’m a big enough guy and I am an infantry officer of the Canadian Forces.  A little macho masculine bravado is a stock standard expectation for guys in uniform.  Short of a life or death scenario, it’s somewhat bad form to be seen quivering in fear of something relatively benign, particularly if your rational brain knows better.  Such was the crux of this event.
I saw a bug on my deck.
A little history would seem apropos.  As a young boy, I lived in Arizona for two years and loved every minute of it.  I played with lizards (Gila Monsters and otherwise), used long sticks to poke and prod tarantulas, scorpions and black widow spiders.  I rode my dirt bike in washes and had no issues with insects of any kind.  Then we moved back to Canada and eventually found ourselves living in Kingston, Ontario.  I can trace the trigger to my issues to with bugs to two events.
The first was while playing guns in a wooded area.  I found the largest praying mantis I had ever seen sitting atop a boulder.  With my toy gun in hand, I moved within two meters to get a closer look.  It unfolded its arms, hissed at me and suddenly jumped on my face, like the Facehuggers from Aliens.  Throwing the damned thing off my face, it landed on the boulder.  Not to be outdone, I but stroked it.  Its thorax took the hit and juices squirted back up into my face.  My world goes black and apparently I run screaming for near two kilometers, my friends chasing after me the best they could.
The second incident occurred while mowing the grass.  I saw a massive queen hornet go into the siding of our house.  I thought, “I’ll be damned if I let this thing build a nest there.”  With a full can of Lysol spray, I place the nozel at the opening and start spraying.  I use near the whole can.  She comes out, wriggling and out of whack, flying directly onto my face.  She lands on my cheeks and twists a turn before zooming off. <shudder>  All this occurred while my arm is zooming to protect my face.
These two events lead to further incidents.  I once dreamed I was asleep in bed and a wasp crept up the foot of my bed under the blankets.  It made its way to my foot and stung my heel.  My leg jerks so hard I knee myself square in the mouth.  Yeah, loose teeth, blood and wounded pride.  In high school, my sister took to putting my mail over the mother’s National Geographic, the pages open to a macro shot of some insect’s head or some such.  She also once placed one of those paperclip butterflies with an elastic to make the wings spin into a card for my birthday.  When I opened the card, the twisted wings spun and launched the fake bug at me.  I nearly flip the table onto my mother sitting across from me.
When I was still dating my wife, we went to a zoo and I thought I’d face my fears and suffer the Insectarium.  I could not have put on a more desperate display of gut-reaction fear if I tried.  After 18 aquariums of stomach turning displays, we reach the Big Daddy; some kind of Brazilian tree-bird eating spider.  Big, angular armour looking bastard, completely tucked against the rear pane of glass.  I lean into catch a better view – in retrospect, a rather naive move.  All of a sudden, it scurries forward against the front pane, hissing loud enough my wife jumps a bit.  I “lose it.”  The door is right there, and I bolt.  I find myself flipping over the wheelchair ramp onto the path outside, hyperventilating in front of a family of four.  My wife exits, rather embarrassedly excusing my behaviour.
So we return to the scene on my deck.  I’ve made a conscious effort not to relay my fear of insects to my two kids.  On this day, I think I fail.  I sat down on a chair and turned my head to see something no less than four inches long, something that resembled a frikkin’ giant earwig with wings folded over its body.  It’s hiding maybe two feet from my head.  Before I even settle into the chair, I am in the house, ready to puke before my wife realizes what’s going on.  The kids are ushered in and I boil a full kettle of water.  I’m in full-kill-mode.  I toss the water and hit this thing square on.  It flops to the floor, sounding more like an overripe tomato than a creature with an exoskeleton.  I retreat back into the house.  Not until two hours later do I make it back out on to the deck.  The bug is gone.
Now, I have no idea what this thing was, nor will I Google it to find out.  Ignorance is bliss and I know for a fact I would not last 5 seconds skimming through Google images.
To wrap this all up, I can’t help but acknowledge the obvious, that a person’s point of view will determine their reaction to what they read.  For many, a scene involving bugs will likely not evoke the same emotions as I would experience; even a poorly written one.  Written well, most would be able to imagine themselves in the scenario, or at least empathize with the character and feel the emotions the author sought to induce; the concept of ‘show’ versus ‘tell’ kicks into refrain.  Telling a scene would not be nearly as powerful as showing – lace the emotions and reactions as opposed to a clinical observation of the action.  This is something that I often have to come to grips with when revising a scene – how do a ‘show’ more of what I want the reader to grasp?  No easy thing, or at least easier said than done.
I purposefully used a race of giant bugs in my fantasy manuscript, the kind that measure in size to a cow.  The scene involved a fair amount of squirming in my seat as I tried to create the atmosphere and emotions I would have faced (ahem, do face) when encountering a ridiculously over-sized insect.  The bug on my deck might as well have been cow-sized, given the reaction I had.  My rational-brain lost handily to my emotional-brain.  Maybe that’s the key to getting this ‘show’ versus ‘tell’ thing down?  If the emotional side of the brain can’t connect with the scene, maybe it’s time for a revision?  I’m sure that’s an oversimplification, but hey, my wife seems to be all for oversimplifications; she insists I get my head checked out.