Category Archives: Review

2015 in Review

As predicted, this has been a year of all sorts of personal life disruptive changes.  However, it hasn’t been without its successes.

This year I

Persinette_2-published Persinette (on Patreon, Amazon, eBooksAreForever, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, Scribd, and Payhip).

-am pleased to see Persinette‘s received a great collection of ratings and reviews at Goodreads for such a niche book.

-wrote two short stories, one dark and one light, while trying out various methods of writing/typing on my tablet when I had no computer access.  I wrote both of them with anthology submissions as prompts, but even though I completely was not expecting anything out of it, they were both short-listed. o.o

-got a new laptop after months of our trying to fix the old one.  The old one I landed up turning into an internet-less, mostly program-less writing machine, aka The Glorified Typewriter.

-started a new novel project, which is still continuing.  Alas, I’d hoped to have it done by now, but I’ve been making better progress on it than I did with Queen, my last longer-fiction project.  It took me about four years to write 44k on Queen, but I’ve managed to write 40k on this novel.  However, I’m going to have to rewrite a lot of that, since one of the main characters wasn’t working.

-wrote a prequel story to my novel project, then rewrote it based on one reader’s feedback and will rewrite it again based on another reader’s feedback.  I don’t mind though (much), because each time I work on it I learn more about the main character who was giving me troubles and I learn more about plotting short stories that are attached to other stories–which I’ve so far been unsuccessful at.

-received more support at my Patreon towards covering web-hosting costs for my translations.

IMG_0781-put my Bibliography back up, since I have something to actually fill it with now, haha. XD

And last but not least, the light short story, “What She Saw by Lantern Light,” was published in the anthology I wrote it for, Frozen Fairy Tales.

 

 

 

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Obsidian & Blood trilogy

Aliette de Bodard’s Obsidian and Blood trilogy has been on my radar ever since I read her short story The Jaguar House, in Shadow” in last year’s Hugo nominations packet.  I also will admit to some fan-girl squee’ing when I found out she was French but writing in English.  When I was sixteen I had a dream of doing the reverse, writing and publishing fantasy in French, though I quickly gave up on the idea when I realized just how below par my French writing skills were–and how hard it was to get modern French literature in America to learn from.

Anyway, what I actually want to talk about is historical fantasy and how much I’ve learned from Aliette’s example.

To do that, I’ll start by saying the trilogy follows the point of view of Acatl, High Priest for the Dead, who is called on to solve a series of murders and disasters (this IS a trilogy) all of which turn quite political.  The books are set in a fantasy 15th Century Aztec nation. Thus, many of the key figures are historical, as well as the mythos of the world, the places, and the culture.  (I should point out that Acatl first appeared in her winning story Obsidian Shards” in Writer’s of the Future XXIII.) I also quite enjoyed how the first book starts off with small (and large) scale family problems, as Acatl’s brother is the one framed for the missing priestess, and so Acatl must confront all the issues between them to prove his brother’s innocence.  None of the characters are perfect. In fact, throughout the trilogy, those who work together to save their Fifth World are all imperfect and bring their own set of foibles to the table.  By the end, though, I confess to tearing up and wanting more–to complete more of the journey with the whole cast.  (Forget the word “trilogy”, give me another book!)

The magic system of rituals and spells is also, well, amazing.  My favorite god would have to be Lord Death, of course, and my favorite “creatures” would have to be the jaguar spirits, the Wind of Knives, and the star-demons.

So, Aliette combines a lot of amazing ideas with a lot of solid research.  If you ever want to write historical fantasy, you should give this trilogy a try. You will learn a lot from her example.  There are weaknesses of course, but all of us have them, and we learn best by examining both others’ strengths and weaknesses, then comparing them to our own.

For example, my current WIP is non-Western historical fantasy, as well.  I also use a series of historical figures, but instead of keeping everything strictly historical, I’m adapting history to the story I want to tell, rather than what she did which was adapting her story to history.  The benefit of her doing this is that when I finished the trilogy, there was a historical appendix to read about what happened to a few of the characters post-trilogy.  The difficulty, I’ve discovered, is letting history and research and ideas trump the execution of the minutia such as smooth character arcs, motivations, and dialogue.  I’ve seen this in my own writing at least.  There can only be so many foci. (Focuses? lol)

To combat this, I’m trying to do all my research upfront, and then just let the pressure go and focus on the characters themselves and the story they have to tell once I know the world well enough.  I think the technique will work. At least, it’s  working a lot better than the way I started out, which was to do research as I wrote. I quickly got bogged down trying to get everything “right”, and I couldn’t focus on the characters and who they were when I cared more about the world and accurate details.

I also want to point out something else that Aliette did well with her trilogy. She handled all of the cultural differences between our culture and the Mexica culture REALLY well.  I mean, human sacrifices were treated as completely normal–and vital to their world’s continuation.  It would have been easy to trump this up and point touristy fingers at how strange and exotic this is. But she successfully painted their culture not as something to look at with wide eyes but something practical to live in, where the characters are used to their world because that’s just how they live.  And it was interesting to note how in the last book Acatl’s perceptions of right and wrong change or come into question–for very good reasons. He’s confronted by moral consequences of his actions in the second book. Still, he was an insider to his world, not an outsider looking in, and I really appreciated that.

Interested? Pick up

Book One – Servant of the Underworld.

Book Two – Harbinger of the Storm.

Book Three – Master of the House of Darts.

OR Omnibus edition – only $11.

(A word of warning, though: Angry Robot did a shoddy job formatting the e-book versions. If this bothers you as much as it bothered me, buy the paperback versions. I had a much pleasanter read on the paperback I received for Book Three.)


Hero: Diana Wynne Jones

I’m on vacation this week, but today I took the time to reread Diana Wynne Jones’ autobiography.  If you haven’t read it yet, you should.  (She grew up during WWII in England and Wales, and she heard C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien speak at Oxford, for starters.) If you haven’t yet read any of her books, you should.

I was first recommended her books by my best friend who passed away a few years ago.  I wish I had taken the time to read more of Ms. Jones’ books when they were both still alive. Yes, I read Howl’s Moving Castle several years ago, and more recently I’ve been listening to it on audiobook whenever I need something calming to listen to, but the more I get to know her work, the more I love it.

She’s quickly become one of my heroes. I look up to and admire her work, her life, and her example.

What about you? What books of hers have you read? What should I read next? A Tale of Time City, Dogsbody, and Fire and Hemlock have all been rereleased this month with special introductions by Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, and Ursula K. LeGuin. Many of her books now have cheaper e-book versions out, as well. For example, House of Many Ways (sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air) is only $1.99


Of Princes and Endings

An Unsatisfying Ending.

So, a few months ago I finished playing Prince of Persia 4.  The game-play was awesome–and beautiful. The writing was quirky and fun. The voice-acting, excellent and believable. The music, gorgeous.

The ending, frankly, sucked.

Granted, a French company made the game, and the French have a penchant for bleak endings, but the ending was highly inappropriate for the story–and here’s why.  (Spoiler alert)

The game starts when a desert-wandering thief encounters a Princess running away from her father and his men.  The thief teams up with her to fight those after her–and then gets sucked into the story. It turns out there is a Dark God bent on taking over the world. He used to be trapped–but now he is working his way free from his prison. Why? Because the princess Elika died and her father called on the Dark God’s powers to bring her back to life in exchange for its freedom.

The entire game we are fighting dark monsters and racing around solving puzzles and healing the darkness-corrupted lands to weaken the Dark God’s power. The boss-battles are against the Dark God’s minions–or servants–including against Elika’s father. And then the ending battle is against the Dark God himself to trap him again.

Only the “ending” doesn’t end there. Because Elika has to die in order to trap the Dark God again, (thereby returning the world to the way it was before her father resurrected her), the thief, now in love with her, goes crazy with grief and then–in order for the game to actually end–you have to go cut down the tree-seal on the Dark God’s prison, take that power and then resurrect Elika with it, thereby UNDOING EVERYTHING that you worked so hard to do in the game.

The last dialogue is Elika asking, “Why?” and looking up with horror into the thief’s face as the Dark God’s power sweeps over the land.

(End spoilers)

As far as endings go, perhaps they did everything “right”.  The story goes full circle in the little mathematical equation:

(beginning set-up (romance-subplot (middle)))

Everything is tied up “neatly”. Resurrection to resurrection; first no romance, then romance, then betrayal and lack of love.

However! Because the ending undoes everything the player has done in the game, it leaves the player feeling like they just wasted all of their time and effort.  Resurrecting Elika was also a really stupid thing to do. The entire game we know her love of the God of Light (she is a priestess), and we know what she is fighting for and what her happy ending would be.  Her happy ending IS to save the world, even if it takes dying for it.  The thief is stupid, dense, and an idiot if he thought for even a moment that she would love him if he undid everything she fought for.  Dying is not a tragedy here–undoing everything she died for is.

A Satisfactory Ending.

Editorial tradition states that in order for an ending to have impact, the Plot’s and all subplots’ resolution must happen in as close to the same scene as possible, like so-

(<–Plot (<–subplot (<–subplot (<–subplot (middle action & further complication)))))

Where that last tightly-packed group of  ” ) ” are all the plot- and emotional arc- threads coming together to land an ending.  However, if you will notice, the vast percentage of the book is spent building something and only a very small percentage of the book is spent resolving or tying threads.

One of my now all-time favorite books is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  When I first read the book, however, I found the ending editorially satisfactory–but highly unsatisfying.   In fact, the only way I became satisfied with the ending is by rereading the book several times to picture what Howl’s side of the story really is and see all the other threads briefly hinted at but missed in the very beginning. It took becoming ill years later, downloading the audiobook, and listening to it multiple times in order for that to happen.

Yet still even now, whenever I reach the ending, I’m upset there isn’t more.  I don’t think that’s just Complaining Fan syndrome.  It’s happened enough times where, for lack of a better way to put it, an author sticks her ending true gymnastics-style with no misstep, following the formula that “everything needs to be resolved in as few scenes as possible for the Highest Dramatic Effect”. Yet what it really feels like as a reader is that we got to spend so much time with the characters before and now we’re rushing to leave them.

How is that satisfying?

A Satisfying Ending.

I recently read Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale.  I was surprised to discover that her ending looked more like this:

(Character plot (family plot (romance subplot (mystery subplot (middle) mystery’s false ending) mystery end) family false-end) family&romance end) character end)

There were two red herring endings in her book, meaning the resolution was not all solved in one scene or one chapter the way Howl’s Moving Castle and many other books try to do.  Granted, many people who expect everything to be nice and neat might be driven crazy that they didn’t get a tidy package with a string tied into a bow.

Yet her ending meant we could spend more time with the characters. The resolution actually felt resolved instead of rushed-through and hastily tied-together.  By the time I got to the last page, I was happy. Or rather, I was satisfied, sated.  I made a complete journey with the characters instead of  a hasty goodbye once we see the destination on the horizon.

Granted, in short stories and novellas, leaving the reader once the reader knows what the ending should be– is okay. But for novels?  Is that fair to the reader?  Are writers and editors out of touch on what a satisfactory vs. satisfying ending truly is?  Are we too reliant on formulas that produce high drama in exchange for high satisfaction? Or am I alone in this? Am I the only one who wishes authors would dispense with formula and let us spend as much time with characters at the ending as at the beginning?

What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree?


Kindle This, Nook That

Spark2 & Embroidery

So, everyone is very excited/appalled about the new Kindle additions to the Amazon e-reader family.  Out of all those choices, I would still choose mine. I love the keyboard and the 3G/Wireless option I’ve got. Plus I made a snazzy bag for it.  People kept wanting to see my embroidery work, so there you go!

I have a whole slew of reasons for loving my Kindle and the recent rise of affordable, well-developed e-readers.

  1. Project Gutenberg actually has meaning. All those public domain books are now easy to read.
  2. Adjustable font. You have no idea how much of a life-saver it is to make font bigger with my illness. Just say no to overwhelming panic attacks of swimming tiny text on two pages! Say no! ((Warning, religious: I’m able to read my scriptures again. HUGE perk. HUGE.))
  3. Travel-friendly. I don’t have a home base. Every few years I am on the move, meaning all of my hardcover and mass market books are literally my biggest burden.  Having hundreds of books that weigh as light as a few feathers is absolutely lovely.
  4. Internet at my fingertips. I don’t have internet on my phone (I’m still in the flip-phone age) so this has come in handy too many times to count.
  5. Downloadable samples. You can sample the first 10% of each book before buying.  Now I don’t have to feel awkward reading books in a bookstore. It is so awkward, lemmetellya.
  6. The rise of excellent self-published authors.  It’s now a viable option to self-publish and make a living. (Now I just have to wade through the marshes of badly formatted translated literature, ugh. Or fix it somehow.)
  7. Foreign language fiction books are now within reach as foreign publishers are beginning to put out e-books on a global scale. Hurray!
  8. Short stories are back!  E-readers are most likely saving the dying short story/magazine format.  Novellas now have a viable, comfy place to live as well.
  9. Choose your own adventure and interactive fiction is back!  Text-based games now have their very own “gaming format”.  The iPad has opened up the interactive-art world. Woohoo!
  10. The world is at our fingertips!  There are so many options, anything you want you can have!

All that being said  – Though the Amazon Fire looks cool and probably really can compete against the iPad, I’m leery of buying all my tech from one company. Why put all I own in one set of hands? That doesn’t sound very smart to me…. I mean, look what happened to Crosswinds, then GeoCities. They lost all my stuff. Harrumph.

Thoughts? Need more convincing?


An Insomniac’s Intrigue

I just finished going through a brilliant game by Choice of Games called Affairs of  the Court (which includes Choice of Romance and its sequel Choice of Intrigue (if you choose to unlock it)).  I have to say, that was enlightening.  Yes, enlightening–on several levels.

First off, I never pictured having such a character reside in my head as resides now.  Her name is Isabel (unoriginal, as my brain was completely dead when I started the game) and she is the favourite of the King.  She never set out to be the King’s mistress, but there you have it.

The game begins with saving your brother–Isabel’s, her gender and name becomes. And from there we meet our hero. Hero she is because she rushes into a burning barn to save him.  We learn that she is nearly impoverished, but she has an aristocratic name. The typical rich uncle pays her way into Court–but only for one season. She has one set of four months in order to catch her future and save her family from utter destitute ruin.  But surprisingly–I did not set out to have such a strong-willed character–she is good at reading people and at using what she sees. She has gorged herself on books of history, law, politics, and conversation.  She, frankly, sucks at doing magic. She wants most dearly to have an adventure, but even more she wants to be good for something. She wants to do, accomplish something. I did not know how much that would drive her.

So enter suiter #1. He’s young, amateur, very much in love with her–but incompetent.  He starts a political faction, begs her help in it. She agrees to become involved in politics–but soon sees he’s not thinking deep enough, complex enough to handle the situation deftly.

Suiter #2. Ugly, awkward, filthy rich, a prosperous businessman with a fine eye for deals and good taste.  Isabel’s aunt will not stop pushing for this match.  Isabel decides to leave both prospects open.

She loves neither, but she gives them both a good solid effort–for the sake of love (#1), for the sake of her family (#2).

Then enter the King.  Oh, he complicates everything. He has a Queen Consort, of course. His heir, a princess, has the wrong type of magic to legally inherit the throne without a consort. He has an illegitimate son with the right kind of magic, but didn’t I mention he was an illegitimate son? Oh, yes. You see where his interests in Isabel lie. Illegitimacy.

So when I first played the story through, Isabel regarded the King and said to herself, “Quite frankly, no.” (But she handled his advances with much more tact than such a bold statement.) In the mean time, war was brewing with the kingdom to the South–

and here, here is where Isabel found her love. She assessed the political situation both internally and externally, and then when all the other politicians were speechifying and pontificating at the King, she maneuvered the social arena, massaged opinions, manipulated thought and speech and insight with a political adroitness that would leave Milady De Winter in shame.  All without drawing attention to herself.   Such subtle arts. She was entranced by sheer Possibility.

So, singlehandedly, she averted war.

But unlike Mulan, when she arrived home with her virtue intact and her heroine’s cheeks flushed with pride, she found her parents had arranged a marriage to an old, toothless man who could barely save their family’s financial situation–but better than she could do. She’d been too subtle, too un-catchable for her own good.

Game over.

She was so much in shock that she made me redo it and back up a few paces to the King’s final attempts at trying to win her over. Together we stared at the choices, then–she made her decision.  She told me, “I know I will not find love or fidelity here. I have the wrong kind of magic to ever produce a child who might even possibly inherit the throne–and he already has one illegitimate “potential” heir.  I have nothing to offer him besides whatever strikes his fancy in me now. But I can do what I do best, and I can save this kingdom again.”

And so in the sequel–that’s just what she sets down to do.  She becomes involved in his political decisions. She has already won the admiration and respect of his Royal Advisor but she wins him over again. She bears the King a son–it’s no surprise the baby won’t inherit, so his daughter the princess’ bitter words do not sting as they might.  She thinks her uncle’s attempts to get her to do away with the Queen and place herself on the throne are ridiculous.  She already has all the political power she needs–right there inside her own person.  All she ever needed was to stay at Court to influence matters and for her family to be given money enough to be saved and get off her back. And yes, the King proves her suspicions right when he finally finds another younger and prettier girl to dally with for a time.   (After five years, she was beginning to wonder if he was going to be “faithful” after all!)

But then war threatens again from without and her political enemies threaten to divide the kingdom from within beneath her and suddenly she sees exactly how to tie all the strings together.

So she does. Again. She saves them all again. And she has never felt so alive.

…This character.  I have never had a character quite shape herself directly for politics before (rather than see but skirt around them). It gives me a whole new insight into the powerful women who dallied with Kings.  They must have known fidelity was not in the bargain. They must have seen the hopelessness of their social or  family situation elsewhere. But blessed–or cursed?–with the talents to manipulate and change and channel and shape people and politics so deftly…what if they saw a hole and filled it?  What if they decided to shape the world rather than be tossed about the one way left open to them?

We had been hoping for an outcome where she goes home without finding love but her parents decide to let her inherit and handle the family money and she uses her cleverness in business or some other way to save them. But then–that ignores the fact that her parents are living so ingrained into her society’s way of thinking that they’ve sold her off to the first bidder that could get her failure off their hands.

…But this game! I am amazed at how neatly it shows the many levels of politics–the stakes and ramifications of each level.

1. Uppermost there is the international level–politics between countries.

2. Then internal politics, between families and generational-clans fighting for prominence and power.

3. Then family politics, aunt’s opinions vs. uncle’s vs. parents.  There’s money at stake and the future of yourself, younger siblings, “retired” parents etc. to worry about.

4. And lastly, personal stakes and ramifications. Moral decisions, how to be true to yourself, your needs and wishes and wants.  (Surprisingly, though she couldn’t find love, she found a place where she was valued)

Every decision the game asks you to make has consequences for multiple levels of politics at the same time.  No one decision affects just you.  And when I say it’s done “neatly”, it’s like a microcosm of How Intrigue Plots are Done Right.  I was really needing a good solid example, something where the stakes, considerations, ramifications were all neatly stitched in a visible pattern.  Most excellent.

It’s not a book–so if you buy the game, just remember, if it’s a little bare-bones, it IS a game.  And another sequel will be forthcoming, this time with socio-economic consequences and class politics thrown in.

((Sidenote Rant: The upsetting part about The Three Musketeers + steampunk reboot is that Milady De Winter uses a freaking sword. The point of making Isabel suck at doing magic was, in the vein of the original Milady, that a true manipulatrice does not need weapons to get her way nor shape politics beneath her thumb.  Weapons, magic, everything more than a gift for seeing people and speaking the right words in the right manner becomes de trop. ))

((Second sidenote rant: This is why I hate watching the news. The media doesn’t know all the political pieces. So what they show is just half of the puzzle, and so really, there’s nothing you can do except become involved and sleuth out the rest of the pieces down at the gritty, person-to-person level in D.C. and across the globe or complain about The State of Things.))

((Post-post-post scriptum: If this post seems odd to you in any way, I finished it at 3:30 AM after attempting to get to sleep for 6 hours because I was dead tired 6 hours ago. 😛 ))


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