Review: “Whitechapel” by Andrew Buckley

4 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this short story brilliantly weaves together three major [and 1 minor] points of view to retell a London legend with much cleverness and humor. Supernatural beings are wandering the desolate streets of London’s Whitechapel district at the end of the 19th Century. Abraham, pushing 70, is still able-bodied but getting too old to continue the hunt. However, he feels the power and potential to take up this mantle in perennial-failure Jackson:

[Jackson] “I was on stage.”
“You were terrible. You also weren’t a very good window washer.”
“Just how long have you been following me? And the window washing thing was just to make some extra money.”
“Along with the carpentry?”
“I got a lot of splinters.”
“You can never get the fish smell out. Never.”
“Male prostitute.”
“Now, hang on a minute, that was just one time, and he looked very feminine…”

An observant, mystery-solving horse named Wilbert provides the third major POV. He has his own dodgy work history to overcome.

After his refusal to race was duly noted by his owner, Wilbert was sold into slavery. For a while, he pulled a milk cart, something he thought would be better suited to a cow. They leaked the damn stuff, why shouldn’t they have to deliver it, too? The whole thing felt half-assed.

Meanwhile, Jackson, orphaned as a teen, does not realize his own family’s history with monster-hunting.

“Wait, you mean a birthright like my parents handed something down to me?”
“Yes. They had a duty.”
“That sounds like responsibility.”
“The noblest responsibility! And your parents were very good at it. Did you ever notice anything strange about your parents’ deaths?”
“No, they died of natural causes.”
“I’m sorry, Jackson, I thought you were aware that they were decapitated.”
“I am. I’d say death is a natural result of decapitation, wouldn’t you?”

With a sense of humor not unlike an Oscar Wilde / Joss Whedon collaboration, the tale follows Wilbert tailing the two men as Jackson goes to confront his destiny. “Jackson didn’t know what to do. Or did he? No, he definitely didn’t know what to do.”

I really enjoyed this story and highly recommend it. I was previously unaware of this author, but am glad for the introduction to his work.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Authorized Thoughts: Know It All, Don’t Show It All

World-building is an intrinsic aspect of all manor of fantasy and science fiction novels and short stories. Beyond landforms and national boundaries, the authors need to think through modes of government, social cultures, cultural histories, species adaptations, economics, belief systems, and backgrounds of characters among many things. It’s a lot. But thinking through various scenarios, one gets to invent less as cultural dominoes fall and repercussions ripple. The story takes on a life of its own with some aspects starting to tell themselves.

This is my topic for this Friday [and weekend] as lately I’ve read some novels that did not seem to have themselves all worked out. Some fantasy social practices did not seem to have a fathomable reason. I understand that there are villains whether individuals or whole societies, but I do not accept EVIL as a reason for action. Voldemort did not do what he did because he was just evil; he was evil in that he was willing to sacrifice anyone to get what he wanted [everlasting life, power, minions etc]. There is a difference. Even villains have a reason, a logic, a belief system–however screwy and detestable it may be.

Authors: Know your world. Know it all.

On the flip side, some authors have gone to such depths in creating their worlds and the components of it that they wish to expound upon it. They lovingly tell every detail of the clothes and spaceships etc. But if it does not effect the story and plot, why are they wasting the ink? One space opera I read spent tens of pages on the descriptions of spaceships. Characters did not get developed until pg 75 or so, and the “other” alien race was described as “just pure evil.” In my opinion, all of the world-building energy went into the wrong details. Also, only the valid details of the ship and clothes should have been revealed and on a need-to-know basis.

Authors: Yes, Show Don’t Tell. But Don’t show it all. Tell the story.

I believe that the extensive world-building that takes place for an author to Know It All, will reveal itself naturally and subtly with confidence within the act of story-telling. The author’s confidence and knowledge will create consistency of expectation and give the reader the tools they need. [Good Beta-readers can help the author find that fine line by asking questions of Why? and How? If they don’t catch the Why and How then clearly another rewrite is in order.]

My question is: Am I giving too much credit to the reader, to the author, or to the writing process? Readers, what is your experience with good, awkward and bad world-building? Writers, what is your mantra? What are your tools? [I personally keep maps, calendars, chronologies, and elaborate outlines and references for my stories. I do not plan to include any of the above in the finished product. I would include a map if my story was in a fantasy land–but it’s not.]

Review: Signal to Noise

Signal to NoiseSignal to Noise by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This work stands as my introduction to both the writings of Neil Gaiman and to the illustrations and designs of Dave McKean. Both are wonderful separately in their own right, but together are exquisite and powerful. This piece of art defies genre and tags, but it may be enough to say that it is beautiful, thought-provoking, and deeply melancholic.

Premise: Roughly a decade before the end of the last millennium, an artist/filmmaker imagines a film about the unfulfilled apocalyptic hysteria that surrounded the end of the first millennium. Ultimately, it is to be a film about humanity’s obsession with imminent apocalypses/death and what the people do when confronted with the end. However, before the artist gets to writing his masterpiece, his doctor informs him of his cancer. The artist is dying, and will not live long enough to create this opus. He is facing his end.

This graphic book follows the artist through his creation process as his death draws near. The poignancy of his message muddles with the realities of his situation and amount of time remaining. The images of his unmade film meld with moments in his remaining life. As sure as the millennium approaches, the doctor’s timeline holds true.

Few books so adeptly capture the contemplation of one’s own mortality so touchingly. It is highly recommended.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Calling the Boys Home (Part 6)

[From Feb. 08 – Mar. 08, I will be releasing the nine sections of my longer narrative poem, “Calling the Boys Home.” One section will be posted each Sunday and Wednesday. The sections alternate between two different timelines occurring in the same location. Start with “Calling the Boys Home” (Part 1)]

“Calling the Boys Home”

Lee knew the bay, cockles and boats.
His best mate, Robert, had inhaled
the bay as his last breath during
an autumnal anomaly. A year passed. Still,
Lee heard the messages with the rhythmic
pulsing of the waves. Robert’s sister needs
me. Little Rachael, who hid flowers
in our lunch sacks and dotted her i’s
with circles, has blossomed. I cannot
watch her wilt breathing salty waters.

For his lunch hour, Lee went to find her.

Not all breezes carry voices. I will
tell her: Steps will hold; stones
will crumble, with or without you.

“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 1)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 2)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 3)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 4)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 5)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 7)
[Check out other original poems here.]

Review: “That Which is Hidden” by Julie Frost

4 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this short story is full of heart. Gideon tells his tale starting with his giddy, anxious waiting on a train platform for his girlfriend, Clementine, to disembark. The mountainous American West comes to life with bank robbers on horseback and a town’s Mormon doc that hands over a fifth of whiskey before stitching a patient up. Gideon’s not looking for trouble–he likes his simple life. But as the first paragraph of the story develops, his life has taken a turn for the worse:

. . . a chill skittered up the back of my neck, and my smile faded. People poured out and scattered, stinking of fear. A few women were in hysterics. I heard the words “robbery” and “murder,” and fur sprouted on my back as I realized Clementine was nowhere to be seen.

So, yes, Gideon’s a werewolf with a broken heart and a mission of revenge thrust upon him. His lupine behavior is never hidden in his account, though he doesn’t advertise it to his fellow town-folk. The supernatural surprise [but not a spoiler, it’s the entire plot] is that he can still hear Clementine’s voice–in ghost form. She, too, now has unfinished business–though she doesn’t recall many details about her undoing.

Romance is not usually my go-to. And star-crossed lovers are a timeless tale, with few fresh tellings. But this is an exceptional and sad tale. Women don’t stick around when Gideon tells them his deal, none except Clementine that is. And then she’s gone. And then not gone, but incorporeal which has its own desperateness about it that can never be solved to satisfaction. He wants her there in ways that she cannot possibly be anymore. And revenge may give a little satisfaction to him and it may completely solve her unfinished business. But what then? She moves on? He loses her again?

I really felt for Gideon’s story, and recommend it.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: Akarnae

Akarnae (The Medoran Chronicles, #1)Akarnae by Lynette Noni
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite enjoying many aspects of this fantasy story and the author’s blog chronicling her writing and publishing experience, and looking forward to the second book in this planned five-book series, the logical inconsistencies and problematic world-building must be acknowledged. This doesn’t mean that the novel is not fun, it is. However, it also means that Noni has her work cut out for her to pull this story and world together. Rowling managed to do that in her third Harry Potter story after mangling the second book, and overall that series pulled together nicely considering its randomness at the beginning. One can hope that Akarnae will pull the same feat rather than following in the path of its other major influence, the Narnia series, which never solidified its rules in its world-building. To be clear, this story pulls heavily from the Narnia and Potter series, and never to good effect.

Too many borrowings from the other series just do not make sense in the world of Akarnae, which is supposed to be a technological world far in advance of Earth. It insists repeatedly that what seems to be magic is really genetics and technology–good for it. Then why does the Akarnae Academy for Gifted Students not reflect that reality instead of embracing medievalism? Why–in an advanced civilization where long-distance travel is made instantaneous through wormholes–are Archery, Sword-play [Combat], and Equestrian Skills core subjects? Not once do archery nor horses play a part in the action sequences, or elsewhere for that matter. Harry Potter’s Care of Magical Creatures is given yet another core class [though under a different name], but not a single unique creature plays a part in the plot, not even a minor role or a background cameo.

The major characters are enjoyable for the most part. Alex[andra] Jennings, the protagonist from Earth and her two sidekicks: Jordan Sparker and “Bear”, both of Medora, are a little too sarcastic all of the time and very good-looking (every single person in Medora is described as very good-looking without note to unique features beyond eye-color), but they manage to stay fun more than not. Their actions and reactions “feel” real after the initial few chapters of awkward set-up. [Initially, the boys are surprisingly casual and uncurious about someone from Earth appearing for the first time in thousands of years.] Later, their characters come into their own. Unfortunately, that is not yet true for many secondary characters. Alex may not understand a character’s motivations, but that doesn’t mean the character shouldn’t have a logical motivation. All too often, motivational questions are raised and not answered. Hopefully, a near sequel can tie up loose threads and separate itself from its influences to become its own world and series.

The potential for an intriguing series are definitely here. The second installment will make or break this one. I received a free Kindle-version of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a review.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Calling the Boys Home (Part 5)

[From Feb. 08 – Mar. 08, I will be releasing the nine sections of my longer narrative poem, “Calling the Boys Home.” One section will be posted each Sunday and Wednesday. The sections alternate between two different timelines occurring in the same location. Start with “Calling the Boys Home” (Part 1)]

“Calling the Boys Home”

The rising red sun illuminates the falling
mist to outline the boats trolling for cockles.
The seabirds circle like flies at a milk
platter. The bay breathes calmly
as if no storms had ever upset her,
as if the men beneath her waves
were just waiting to resurface. She, too,
had launched a thousand ships. She, too,
had men who had died for her. Old,
beautiful Swansea Bay gathers
the rhododendron blossoms released
in homage and folds them into her
delicate, churning silts.
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 1)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 2)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 3)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 4)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 6)
[Check out other original poems here.]

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora


The Lies of Locke Lamora
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Upon my finishing The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) by Patrick Rothfuss which my brother had recommended, he suggested that I should check this book out. I’m glad I did. The story-telling is exceptional. It is a web, carefully crafted that changes patterns rather than grow complacent. I am nearly as miserly with the 5-star ratings as I am with the 1-star ratings, but this is unapologetically a 5-star tale.

This fantasy is set in a Venetian-like city-state in a period not unlike the Renaissance. However, the history and culture are imaginatively unique to this tale. The protagonist is an Oliver-like orphan whom we follow both as a child thief-in-training and as an adult in alternating chapters. His greatest assets are his wit and his wile, neither of which gets him very far in…

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Authorized Thoughts: The Info-Dump–Confessions and Conversations

Last week in a post, I asked about how to handle sex scenes when writing fantasy and/or sci-fi. I was pleased with the discussion generated between here and Facebook and happy to have brought it up. It may come up again. I’ve decided to start raising questions and issues as it pertains to writing and the writing process [mostly fiction, but poetry may sneak back in there]. Now that I’ve locked into daily morning posts, I think every Friday will be an “Authorized Thoughts” post raising topics about writing. Meanwhile, Wednesdays and Sundays have locked in as my Original Poetry posting days. Reviews will continue to hit every Mon-Tu-Th-Sat.

In the last couple of days, a convergence of posts, beta-feedback and reviewing have lent themselves to this weekend’s topic– the info-dump. Without using that dreaded phrase, I was reading a fellow blogger’s original fantasy vignette and had an aversion to a few rather expository paragraphs in a row. No biggie. I wasn’t reviewing the piece, but I also don’t like to just sit back and slow clap [or blindly like something] when thoughtful criticism can help a writer improve. I suggested tying a few of the thoughts back into the action where appropriate to make the exposition feel more natural, ie “not an info-dump”. Meanwhile, a beta-reader of mine called me out personally on an early info-dump in the second chapter of my novel that he’s reading. I totally see it. The entire chapter needs to be re-written. This is not exactly an exciting prospect after spending months doing multiple rounds of re-writes, but he’s right. I’m guilty. I know I did not significantly alter that particular chapter during my re-writes and now I’ve been called on it. Good for him–he’s a keeper. A silent beta-reader is just about worthless. Now that I’m locked in on the problem, I can address it. Being blind to a text issue is the bigger problem. That’s why the world has editors and beta-readers.

Multiple blogs have addressed the dreaded dump in the past couple days, and with reason. For those of us working to better our writing, forced introspection is a good thing. The show-don’t-tell can often be solved by tying the information back into the scene at hand or by offering information into a conversation. Character conversations can be a great thing. That is the most common way that people exchange and share ideas, so why not mimic that. It also lends itself to character building and mood by showing how the various character speak and relay information. There are obviously other ways to achieve the same means. It does not always work to have a pathetically uninformed character in a scene in order to elicit world-building information. I have noticed that trend in space fantasies however. One alien character [or Data on Star Trek: TNG] and there is a man-child just waiting for a blatant dissection of culture and tradition. I have a character that journals just rarely enough to not overdo the action, but characters journalling, blogging, or writing letters also allow for info to be conveyed.

Conversation is still king, however. And that brings me to a topic raised by a blog I saw on Thursday. The blogger was vehemently against using synonyms for the word “say / says / said” in fiction. That’s right–no murmurs, whispers, chortles, screams, laughs, pouts or bragged. Questions were allowed to be asked, in case you were wondering. I’m not sure what I think of this advice. And I would like to know what you think of it. Clearly, the nuances of the synonyms convey tone in ways that a simple he said / she said does not. Tone would need to be conveyed by a different means: word choice, body stance, facial expression, an action. These have merit. I’m just not sure that all synonyms are bad. Mind you, I do like to forgo using he said / she said entirely when I can. I like enough action infused into a conversation to make the speaker obvious. The speaker’s personal ideolect [individual method of speaking and word choice] helps to bolster this method. However every once in a while, a simple he said tag does the trick to keep everyone reading the conversation the same way. I personally detest having to re-read written dialogue in order to figure out who is saying and suggesting what. Then again, suggesting might be out as it’s a nuanced synonym for saying.

What tricks do you employ [or enjoy] to convey information and to avoid the dreaded info-dump other than using dialogue?

Also, what do you think of the moratorium on said-synonyms? I am most curious.

Review: “Flight of the Pegasus” by Darin Kennedy

2 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this is not a short story despite my liberal use of the tag. Nor is it even a vignette, which I’ve used to describe many a very short narrative piece. This is a scene, a short, unsatisfying scene written with clever prose. And, therein lies my conundrum. I mostly enjoyed it, really enjoyed it, until the moment it ended where it never should have ended. Every intriguing mystery in the world-building immediately morphed into a boondoggle. Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote skits offer better closure.

In a steampunk alternative history where the nations of The United States of America, The Republic of Texas, and Mayaztec Republic border the Yucatan Gulf, the Pegasus is the fastest, most advanced dirigible in the world. The clever Doctor Bellerophon, who is neither a doctor nor of Greek ancestry as his name would imply, holds his steam-power technology patents tight and his personal history tighter. The protagonist, Captain Carruthers of the Pittsburgh Carruthers who’s not a captain nor a Carruthers, solicits Bellerophon and his dirigible’s help to hunt down their mutual enemy, Herr Klaus Behringer, who’s gone underground in the Yucatan rainforests.

The set-up is great with two unapologetically secretive, mostly good men teaming together against a common enemy. Also, the descriptions of the Bellerophon Tower and the Pegasus’ rich interiors with its steam-powered automaton crew are grand world-building. Even the technologies are fun, from the super-goggles to a synthetically constructed breathing mechanism the doctor relies on. Less clear is what hard steam is supposed to be and how being exposed to it transforms one’s cells into steam-powered, super-healing cells. Even more startling is the claim that hard steam helps a body defy physics in ways that would even put Wile E. Coyote out of commission. In a dramatic flurry of action, I’m trying to figure out how the hero is still alive. But I’ll roll with it. I just need some more answers into this world and who these people are and–

Story Over.

Maybe the cookies needed to come out of the oven? Maybe this was a timed writing prompt? The story’s not over; it’s barely started. Unfortunately, this half-tale is not a teaser, it’s being peddled as a short story. I don’t see it.
[Check out my other reviews here.]