Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Beneath Ceaseless Skies – Issue #19

“The Mansion of Bones” by Richard Parks – Lord Yamada and the fleshly priest Kenji explore the ruins of the Fujiwara compound. In addition to being guarded by murderous ghosts, a demon lurks within the area, keeping close watch on the treasure Yamada seeks for his client.

I’ve read other stories by Parks that feature Yamada and Kenji, and this one fits right in with the others. Parks has a way of building tension by leaving the reader in the dark with each mystery presented, and then he carefully reveals their secrets, leaving you with an admiration of Yamada’s cleverness. If Sherlock Holmes lived in historic Japan replete with demons, ghosts and the unexplained, his name would be Lord Yamada. Great fun!

“Havoc” by A. C. Smart and Quinn Braver – Marcoen the bard travels to find the best stories that he can translate into song, experiencing things first-hand as much as possible. His latest adventure is to accompany a legendary Roen scout named Havoc. Havoc is a young man with about a dozen followers who pesters the Cumberan enemies through assorted pranks and tricks.

This tale has well-written prose (by that I mean that it has a poetic quality about it), but I had difficulty in keeping track of the characters and plot. It took me a long time to get a sense of who Havoc was allied with and what he was doing. I never felt secure with where I was at in the story, and the uneasiness kept me detached from the characters.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Insert Title Here

The title is an important part of a story. It’s the first thing a reader will see and creates a point of reference for your tale. I don’t think there’s an exact science to creating the title, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.

The most obvious title is one that describes what the story is about. “Matt’s Workday” would hopefully involve a character named Matt in a work setting (assuming we’re using this method). Similar methods include titling the story after a character or setting.

Some titles that seem cool to me are ones that are part of a sentence from the story. Think “The Catcher In The Rye.” Okay, technically that might be a reference to the protagonist, but when I read it years ago, I thought it was interesting how the title suddenly made sense towards the end of the novel. The only caution I’d throw out is to not choose something completely unrelated to the story as a whole. Just because you came up with an impressive metaphor on page seven doesn’t mean you should flash it at the top of the story in bold print.

Another approach is to reference another literary work. One of the fun things you can do with this is to reference something in hopes of connecting with others who also read the work. It’s like you’ve put a secret message into your story that only like-minded people will understand! Unfortunately, you may quote or paraphrase such an archaic passage in the referenced work that no one catches your allusion. Then again, perhaps you enjoy creating titles that are an esoteric enigma in order to flaunt your sublime cleverness to yourself.

Regardless of the method used for creating your title, it should at least be interesting and somewhat unique (if possible). The goal is to create one that sticks with the reader without annoying the reader. I don’t read the title of most stories and think, “My, what a wonderful title,” but if I come across a bad one, I cringe.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Think It Through

When I have an undeveloped story idea, it doesn’t always work its way out on the page. My current strategy for storytelling is to think the story through before I begin writing it. Not that I will have the entire story in my mind, but I like to have a solid idea about the characters, setting and plot.

It is tempting to take a fuzzy idea and run with it, but I have a plethora of unfinished tales that seemed like good ideas at the time. For me, a story idea is like a dust ball rattling around in my head. So long as I don’t put the idea on paper, the dust continues to collect, accumulating into something tangible and exciting that eventually demands to become a story.

To develop the fuzzy idea, I like to ask myself certain questions. Who are the characters in this story? What is each one like? What is the main plot or struggle in the story? How will the plot be resolved? Is this interesting enough to be a story?

It doesn’t bother me too much if I get stuck on certain points. Sometimes it takes days or weeks to work through an idea, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The important thing is to not get frustrated. Think time is writing time; it just doesn’t seem like it because there’s no typing.

Keep writing, but take time to think!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fantasy & Science Fiction June/July 2009

The June/July issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction was another good one. Great job, staff and authors!

“Firehorn” by Robert Reed – Gabe and his friend Morgan create a myth about an elusive creature called the Firehorn to fool kids in their club. As the years pass, the myth grows into a legend of such proportions that even beings of artificial intelligence believe in it.

I thought this story had an interesting take on future artificial intelligence, that they cling to superstitions or various faiths, becoming odd imitations of humanity. It’s a satisfying tale, in typical Reed fashion.

“The Motorman’s Coat” by John Kessel – A struggling antiques dealer in the future encounters a woman with a rare item for sale, a motorman’s coat used by a transportation company in 1911. Such an item intrigues the dealer, as it might draw in more customers, but can he afford the risk?

A bit humorous and a little quirky, Kessel’s story unfolds rather nicely. I think I was drawn to the protagonist out of pity.

“Retrograde Summer” by John Varley – Timothy lives with his mother on Mercury and awaits the arrival of his older clone-sister, Jubilant, who is arriving from the Moon. Timothy wants to find out the details of the relationship between his mother and sister, but these are secrets that his mother refuses to reveal. His only hope of discovering the truth is to befriend Julilant, and based on her attitude about him and his home planet, it seems a nearly impossible task.

This was the first classic reprint of the issue. The protagonist’s voice is perfect in this tale, really drawing you in. The science-fiction elements seem fairly realistic and plausible. I do have qualms with the gender-swapping themes and the negative ideas about a traditional family, but I could still find entertainment in the story itself.

“Corona Centurion FAQ” by Terry Bisson – This story is literally an FAQ about the Corona Centurion rotary heart that is designed to endure for a hundred years and all of the strange nuances that accompany the artificial organ.

This was a quick spot of levity in the issue. Quite enjoyable.

“Paradiso Lost” by Albert E. Cowdrey – The Councils of State determine to pull back the outer space colonies as a way of strengthening their defense against their enemies from the First Alien War. Robert Kohn’s military assignment aboard the Zhukov is to help evacuate a distant world populated by a colony of religious zealots. After the lieutenant’s commanding officer is murdered, however, Kohn has the additional duty of solving the crime.

The narrative is superb in this novella. I felt included with all of the terminology (military and technological). I enjoyed the mix of humor and tension. Really well done, but given who the author is, I didn’t expect anything less.

“Adaptogenia” by Wayne Wightman – Insects begin adapting in an unprecedented way: they combine to form illusions of reality, such as people or cars. As a writer for Conspiracy Theorists’ Weekly, Eliot investigates the incidents cautiously, but he soon realizes that the motivations for such adaptations are horrific.

I’m not a fan of insects in general, so reading something like this makes my skin crawl. There was an appropriate amount of creepiness to the story’s telling. I’m not sure if it classifies as horror or not, but I think readers who like ominous tales will enjoy this.

“Sooner or Later or Never Never” by Gary Jennings – Missionary Crispin Mobey sets out for Australia to win the souls of the Anula tribe. Though great of heart, the missionary is devoid of reason, such as his idea for taking two trucks full of glass beads with him as a way of gaining their trust and impressing them.

The second classic reprint of the issue is hilarious. I laughed aloud several times. This was a great choice for a reprint.

“Economancer” by Carolyn Ives Gilman – Simon leaves England to interview for a job with Sinoa Bank in the distant land of Nanonesia. Though applying for a much lower-level position, he finds himself meeting the entire board of directors who seeks his help in taking down the United States’ economy through his powers in sorcery, powers he has no knowledge of.

I liked the letter-writing narrative presented in this story. The protagonist is humorous and engaging. I also enjoyed the unpredictability (no pun on the tale’s plot intended).

“The Spaceman” by Mike O’Driscoll – Twelve-year-old Freddie enjoys his younger friend Mouse for his imagination, as does Jenna, the most recent addition to their trio. When Mouse tells Freddie about finding a spaceman, Freddie finds himself wanting to leave the games of imagination behind in favor of winning Jenna as his girlfriend. When the three of them are confronted by the impossible, Freddie finds that he’s less accepting of the fantastical than his other friends, and it drives an uncomfortable wedge between them.

This was my favorite tale of the issue. I felt Freddie’s internal struggles, whether over reality or his newfound feelings for Jenna. All of the characters were quite strong and believable. I hope to see more of O’Driscoll’s stories in future issues.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Kentucky Ren Faire

This past weekend, my father-in-law, Ron, and I donned our knight outfits and went to the Highland Renaissance Festival. The Kentucky Faire is located just outside of Louisville in the small town of Eminence. They’re open from May 30th through July 19th on Saturday and Sunday from 10AM to 7PM, rain or shine.

I’ve attended four different faires in my short span of faire hopping, and this was the friendliest. The cast do a good job of including everyone, from human chess to singing songs or just conversing. Also, it’s family friendly. The more bawdy songs are kept for a 21 and up area, so parents shouldn’t have to be as guarded as they might be at other faires.

There was an abundance of shade provided by all of the surrounding trees (beautiful landscape – I’m a sucker for forests), and even the jousting field had awning over the fan sections. The temperature reached the mid eighties, but even with all of my armor, I was pretty comfortable.

Ron and I are really interested in going back again this year if we’re able to work it out in our schedules. If you’re within driving distance (or don’t mind long car rides) and enjoy faires, I highly recommend this one.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Baby 2 – The Return of Sleep Deprivation

My wife and I are expecting our second child towards the end of October. Perhaps my son (yes, it’s a boy this time) will be born on Halloween so that we can continue to cover the holidays (Elora was born on Christmas Day). It’s still a bit surreal at the moment, though it helped to see him moving around yesterday and learn that he’s a boy, adding some definition to what was previously a very abstract concept. I’m not sure how much Elora understands what’s happening, and since it’s difficult for me to grasp, I’m sure it must be even more complex to her. I wonder how soon my new squire will be able to hold a sword…