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Thursday, February 14, 2019
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There was a young man with a crutch staring at me from across the coffee shop today. Although we'd never met or spoken, I had the terrible feeling we were on a date.
The day started out as a perfectly normal day. It was a crisp, sunny morning, just warm enough to be comfortable. I woke up early, pulled a dress from my closet (black, with small white polka dots), and shrugged a jacket on before stepping out into the day. I had an hour before work started, and it was time for my weekly cup of coffee.
The shop was one I knew well: a quaint, casual, privately owned establishment that played local artists and hosted monthly poetry readings, and the occasional talent show.
The barista, doing her best with the outdated equipment, handed me my caramel macchiato with an apologetic smile, and I tipped her extra. Then, with golden sunlight filtering through the windows, I took a seat on the ground floor and enjoyed the view.
The view which included, incidentally, the young man in question.
He sat alone at a small table, sipping a mug of what I presumed was black coffee. He had a crutch with him- not the kind that goes under your arm, but the kind that wraps around your forearm.
Dark blond hair of medium length framed an angular face which, though not what you'd call chiseled, left a definite impression of high cheekbones and a strong, clean-shaven jaw. Freckles dotted his cheeks and a long straight nose. His chin was tapered and smooth- no hint of a dimple.
His clothing was not particularly remarkable (a dull red, fitted V-neck T-shirt, dark blue jeans, and shoes I thought might be Sketchers), though it did give me the impression that he enjoyed looking nice even when casual. He was tall, I could tell, because his long legs stretched out much farther under the table than mine, and I wasn't short by any means.
From where I sat, I couldn't determine the color of his eyes: only that they were locked on mine. At first, I was embarrassed that he had caught me staring, until I realized he must have been staring at me first. Fighting my rising blush, I smiled the bland smile one does after making accidental-eye-contact with a stranger, and turned to the side, burying myself in my coffee. But I couldn't resist sneaking another sideways glance at him now and then, and every time, he was either looking at me already, or looked up just in time to catch my own gaze.
He raised an eyebrow at me, a distinct and lively smile dancing on his lips, as he were laughing at me. In fact, I was sure he was laughing at me. And yet, that smile was one of a friend. Of someone who knew me well, and only laughed because I made some sort of inside joke.
Swallowing, I averted my eyes and stirred the macchiato. It was just cool enough to drink, now, which was a relief as it gave me something to do! Something other than endure the man's gaze--or risk returning it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him chuckle softly and take another sip of coffee, thankfully turning so that he faced the window, just parallel to me. We sat like that for a few minutes, until I was brave enough to hazard another peek above the rim of my cup.
Though he still faced the window, I knew immediately he could see me peering. He smiled again, then turned to face me fully before I had a chance to look down.
There was no point in denying it now- we were facing each other squarely, eye-to-eye. I set down my cup and tapped my fingers on the table, and he did the same. I felt the heat in my cheeks intensify, which was alarming in itself. It wasn't as if I'd never talked to a guy before! I'd had a boyfriend or two- which is not as many as most girls my age could boast- but it was a start. I was certainly beyond the point of blushing and giggling with nerves like a sixth-grader. Yet still I was seized by this unaccountable rush of self-consciousness. I couldn't remember being this flustered ever before- not even at my first job, when they set me in front of a temperamental cash register without training and asked me to take the orders of a dozen waiting customers.
I licked my lips carefully- conscious of their slightly chapped surface- and blinked at the young man, trying not to let my eyes wander too obviously to the crutch at his side. I wondered what he needed it for- an old injury, or perhaps a disability he'd been born with...
As we sat there, I was filled with the sudden alarming impression that we were on a date of sorts. We had never met or even spoken before that moment, but we were here, less than twelve feet away from each other, enjoying our coffee and, evidently, each other's company. Maybe if we were at the same table, he would ask about my family, or my favorite color, or what I liked to do on a typical Friday evening. I would of course respond with a charming and tactful answer, then ask him about himself. Did he like music? What made him laugh? What were his dreams?
This peculiar impression was so strong, I found myself too embarrassed to risk looking at him again. I faced the window instead, and gulped down the rest of my coffee before glancing at my watch.
I had fifteen minutes to get to work. Plenty of time, it was only a short distance away. Still not looking at the staring man, I stood and gathered my things.
But when I turned for the door- he was gone. He and his crutch and his unsettlingly-charming glances were just... gone.
Startled, I hesitated before going to the door. For half a second, the secret corner of my heart wished he would appear behind me and talk to me, but the second passed and I knew it wouldn't happen. I was glad it didn't happen--what would we have said?
So, tightening my grip on my purse and on reality, I left the shop and fled for work.
I haven't been back to the coffee shop since then. It's Saturday again, and I'm due for my weekly treat- but I'm still standing out here on the sidewalk, looking at the door. There's only forty-five minutes before work this time, and I can already see he's not in there.
But that clacking sound on the pavement... is that the sound of a crutch?
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Tuesday, January 1, 2019
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In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut--young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
But Ender is not quite like the other cadets, and his siblings are not finished trying to change the world. When the three of them launch their own efforts to end the centuries-long war, nothing will ever be the same...
This is one of those stories where I saw the movie before reading the book. Now, despite some pretty major differences between book and film, I the storyline was pretty-much the same. What the movie misses, however, is the hugely important subplot that follows Ender's sister and brother--but more on that in the PROS and CONS sections.
Ender's Game is a mysterious, exciting, and moving tale that delves into the psychology of the characters involved, which I very much appreciated. The author explains just enough of the world that you don't get lost, but he doesn't seem to feel the need to tell you everything you need to know either. There was a great deal that didn't quite make sense to me in the beginning of the book, and it wasn't until the middle and close to the end that I suddenly began to understand.
The technology in this future is really interesting, and is made even more so by the fact that this book was written long before the internet ever entered the public use (or knowledge). Yet the tech demonstrated throughout the narrative is oddly similar to what we have today!
The competitions and warring factions that Ender encounters during training, as well as the schemes of his brother and sister on Earth, make for some very compelling reading.
There is some language throughout the book, as well as some nudity. This nudity is for the most part innocent (and even to be expected), given that the characters are very young, and in a barraks-like situation. However, it can be a bit crass at times, and I certainly could have done without it.
The characters in the books are very, very young. Ender is six throughout most of the story. Imagining six-year-olds doing what the book describes them doing is very difficult, both for practical reasons (they're so small!), and for psychological reasons (too young!). This is made a little more understandable when it's made clear that these are not natural children, but genetically different from most of humanity.
However, I also found it hard to read about the trials these kids faced on an emotional level. The kids receive very little love or guidance from adults, and are left to face the cruelty of the world, the war, and each other on their own.
This is one change I appreciated in the movie: that they aged the characters up a bit. It makes it a little easier to accept.
If you're a sensitive reader, be warned that this book is dark, and sad, in many ways. Ender is an innocent and tenderhearted person by nature, but his training and education has been designed to turn him into a ruthless general (and killer). He is in near-constant conflict with his heart and his mind, and if that kind of thing depresses you, there are other books you can read.
There is also some violence, though not terribly detailed or gory from what I remember.
**SPOILERS** At one point, it is revealed that Ender accidentally killed a fellow classmate, his own age, during a fight. The reader knows how and when it happened, but Ender doesn't learn until much later, after the fact. This is not so much a con because of the violence of the act, but rather because of its disturbing nature.
Ender's brother Peter is also revealed to be a sadist, which in a boy of his age is quite chilling to imagine.**END SPOILERS**
I know that the CONS section is way longer than the PROS, and it may seem like I don't approve of this book, but that's not the case. I actually quite enjoyed Ender's game, and found that the positives outweighed the negatives as I read it.
I would not recommend this book to young or easily disturbed readers. There's a lot of dark content, and it can be upsetting. There isn't a whole lot of light to be found here-- but it does end on a good note. Love, Hope, and Forgiveness are not totally absent, and if you look close enough, as Ender learns to, you will find it.
So if you enjoy war stories, studies of character and human nature, or sci-fi, then this book is definitely worth a read.
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Saturday, December 29, 2018
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A mysterious young woman, Hester Shaw, emerges as the only one who can stop a giant, predator city on wheels devouring everything in its path. Feral, and fiercely driven by the memory of her mother, Hester joins forces with Tom Natsworthy, an outcast from London, along with Anna Fang, a dangerous outlaw with a bounty on her head.
It was Peter Jackson's name that first caught my eye; the man who directed the masterpiece that was the Lord of the Rings trilogy is now releasing a steam/dieselpunk action adventure movie? Count me in!
(And okay, Robert Sheehan's character looked really handsome...)
Anyway, based on the trailers, I thought this would be a fairly fluffy, generic save-the-world story. And, in a way, it was. But it was much more exciting, and a lot more touching than I expected! Also, no one prepared me for how scary this movie would be. There's a character who **SPOILER** is a lot like the Terminator from the first Terminator movie, and it's freaky as all get-out.**END SPOILER**
The whole concept of the film requires the watcher to suspend their disbelief quite a bit, but if you accept the rules of the world that are presented to you, Mortal Engines is a super fun (and nerve-wracking) ride all the way.
This movie is one of those movies that just looks really cool. It doesn't really matter that moving cities wouldn't work like that, or that none of the flying machines would ever make it off the ground, what matters is--it's exciting! And I've decided I want a red airship like Anna's.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the characters--my personal favorite part of any story. I went into the film sort of expecting a tense, I'm-better-than-you/I-don't-need-your-help drama between Hester and Tom, but that's not what we got. There was some tension at first, but in general these characters were kind, caring individuals with pretty great senses of loyalty. The villain was pretty good too: an opportunist masquerading as an idealist, or perhaps a bit of both.
The movie was also surprisingly clean; apart from a few swear words, it wasn't inappropriate, or even particularly violent. Except for that one character, which I'll talk about in the next part...
The few swear-words I mentioned before, and the One Character, who is a mix of Terminator-style robot and zombie. He looks pretty freaky, but anybody who can handle Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean can take this guy.
Intense action sequences may cause young viewers distress, and there are several character deaths. In a flashback, a character is revealed to have spent most of their childhood in a rather creepy place, where the person who raised them enjoyed collecting broken toys and such. Images of battered doll-heads and broken clown dolls may be disturbing to some viewers.
I would recommend this movie to anybody who likes action/adventure, steampunk, dieselpunk, cyberpunk, romance, or suspense. It's highly enjoyable, and I can't wait to see it again.
Guard young viewers as you see fit--there are some frightening things here. But in general, I'd say this is a fun film, and I'd like to see some sequels.
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Friday, December 28, 2018
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It's here! The Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children Holiday Special, featuring The Fairy King, is now available to listen to and download!
The Fairy King is first in the podcast, followed by the other four winning stories. I'm so pleased with the way it turned out.
To hear the holiday special and other episodes of the podcast, head over to Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children and enjoy!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you. :)
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Sunday, December 23, 2018
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My short story, The Fairy King (originally published in The Madman of Elkriahl and Other Fairy Tales), has been selected to be a part of the holiday episode of the Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children podcast!
This podcast, created and written by Scott Thrower, features original fairy tales told weekly. They are whimsical, and at times a little dark, and overall great fun to listen to. I've only just started listening for about two weeks now, but so far I've found it quite charming.
Once a year, a contest is held in which listeners can submit a fairy tale of their own, under 2,500 words. Five such stories then become a part of the special Christmas episode.
I am honored to have my story featured this year--so I want to send a big Thank You to Scott Thrower for giving it a chance! ^_^
The episode is set to be released this coming week. Drop by Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children to hear it!
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Saturday, December 22, 2018
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Jane Eliot wears an iron mask.
It's the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain―the ironskin.
When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a "delicate situation"―a child born during the Great War―Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help.
Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn't expect to fall for the girl's father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her scars and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio... and come out as beautiful as the fey.
Although I was in a hurry at the library, the cover caught my eye immediately; and on closer inspection, I realized that this eye-catching book was in fact a fantasy twist on Jane Eyre--and who could resist that?
I've never actually read Jane Eyre all the way through. I've read bits and pieces, and I've researched the heck out of the story, but I've never read it in its entirety. Still, I know enough about it to appreciate the many nods and allusions to the original story spread throughout Ironskin.
The story begins as Jane Eliot enters her new post as a governess, five years after the Great War between humans and Fey. We get glimpses of her past as she approaches the bleak, yet oddly beautiful manor that is to be her new home.
Not everything is what it seems in this manor though... and what at first seems to be the perfect opportunity for a new life slowly becomes an eerie and harrowing journey with no certain end.
There's some interesting world-building here; from what I gathered, this book takes place in a time roughly like our 1920s, post WWI. Humanity is reeling after losing access to the fey technology they had come to depend on, and frantically searching for a new source of power. To add to their troubles, they face the frightening and mysterious problem of the now-cursed survivors of the fey bombs, who emit powerful emotions that no one can control.
I wished that the book had spent more time on this aspect of the story. Don't get me wrong--I found the mystery and the romance very interesting as well, but there is a lot of potential in this world that Tina Connolly has created. Maybe there are more books that I just don't know about, but I definitely was interesting in hearing more.
I really enjoyed all the references to Jane Eyre. Connolly cleverly nods to her source material while keeping Ironskin a story in its own right. It all starts out very similar to Jane Eyre, then deviates sharply towards the middle of the book. One of the funniest references, I thought, was when Edward Rochart, like Edward Rochester, expresses concern that Jane will not like the manor and leave--only for her to reassure him that has no 'dying aunt' to care for. (She has a sister's wedding to attend instead.)
I also appreciated the accuracy of the child-care sections of the book. Jane is faced with a difficult task in tutoring Rochart's willful daughter. She does so patiently and creatively, and her battles felt rather realistic, compared to my experience dealing with children. Kudos to the author for that!
The writing was a bit odd sometimes. For the most part, the tone reflected the antiquated writings on which the story is based. However, sometimes, it would randomly revert to modern language that seemed out of place.
The end was a bit confusing to me--but maybe that's because I read it too quickly. As I expected, there are several twists and revelations that change the game, but they all happened so fast that I might have missed some things.
These revelations also resulted in a sharp change in tone towards the end of the book. It went from gothic romance to borderline horror. I don't mind a bit of horror if it's the right kind. Like, gothic horrors such as Frankenstein and Dracula are alright. But this one had some gruesome parts in the climax that I just didn't appreciate.
Fortunately, the descriptions of these things are not particularly graphic. In fact, the whole book is refreshingly clean! But I have a very vivid imagination.... so even the mention of certain things is more than enough for me.
I did not find the ending satisfying either. I like a little more wind-down after the climax of the book, but this one left the reader almost immediately in the stillness that followed all the action. I wasn't disappointed, I was just unsatisfied.
If you don't a little grim or gruesome elements in a story, and if you really enjoy fantasy in a early 20th century, then this is the book for you.
If you're a fan of Jane Eyre and are looking for a fun new version, this is the book for you.
If you are easily unsettled... maybe skip this one.
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Sunday, December 16, 2018
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Hello, my readers!
I figure it's time to update you on the status of my latest and most major writing project, Rise of Ralienah!
Although in the last few months the training for my new job as a test administrator has kept me from spending a great deal of time writing, I have made some good progress in this project.
I think I've mentioned before that Rise of Ralienah went from being a single novel and turned into a four-volume series. It's been an interesting adjustment, since I now have a lot more room to try new ideas and subplots (a huge plus!), but I also have to rethink some older ideas and make sure they still match the story as it is now.
I am now writing part three of the four volumes, so I'm rather excited. This in no way means I'm close to publishing, of course, but getting close to finishing what is essentially the first draft of a huge novel is always exciting.
At this point in the narrative, I've introduced most of the key characters... there's only one really important one to go, and his entrance is coming up soon.
In this version of RoR, I've been trying to employ what I've learned about foreshadowing and character arcs, and I'm really hoping it pays off by the end of the story. How it actually plays out remains to be seen, but I feel good about what I've written so far.
I've been so blessed to have a few beta readers this time around! Dmitri Pendragon, an old friend from the Underground, has been so helpful in providing insights and critique throughout the chapters.
Splitting the novel into four parts has also forced me to reconsider my original ideas for the cover art. I've been looking around at some of the more popular covers for fantasy novels, and it seems that for books in the YA genre, beautiful, colorful, and magical paintings are in. But books in the adult category tend to use plain colored backgrounds, with the title and author's name in huge text over the whole colors.
I'm not really sure what category to put this book in yet, but I have a feeling it'll lean more towards YA than adult. Especially if it means having a more fun cover than just... text on a plain background. 0_0 Talk about boring!
Just for fun, here's an excerpt from Part II, in which our heroine, Ralienah, risks detection by the soldiers who would have her head in order to find Eotel--her friend and ally--while they are being hunted. Instead of him, she finds someone quite different...
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GRIPPING HER SWORD, Ralienah stepped carefully over the mat of leaves and pine needles beneath her feet, every sense alert. In the time since she had come to Talminia, she had come to feel as at home in this forest as she did on her own estate... but now even the peaceful cooing of the doves seemed ominous.
She flinched as a distant crash and shout sounded somewhere to the south. They were getting closer, and there was still no sign of Eotel. Pushing back the feeling of desperation and burying it deep, she searched the ground for any sign of his passing- a snapped fern, a footprint, or-heaven forbid- a blood trail.
More voices drifted her way. Silently, she ran a little way off to the north, keeping to the soft patches of mossy ground. Ahead there was a long, fallen tree resting at an angle. Ralienah debated for a moment whether she should chance climbing it for a better view of the surroundings. She might spot Eotel faster, but she might also be just as easily be spotted by someone on the ground.
Then again, though she could hear the sounds of soldiers moving not far off, they were not yet close enough to be an immediate danger to her. Quietly, she sheathed her sword and crept up the trunk until she reached its highest point, where it was wedged between the forked trunk of another tree nearly fifteen feet off the ground. Peering carefully through the green, Ralienah scanned the area A small butte a little distance away caught her attention. They had a lookout point there, and it was possible Eotel had gone to cover the tracks around it.
Transferring over to the forked tree, she shimmied down the trunk and stepped lightly to the ground, intending to make for the butte.
But she had taken no more than paces when a peculiar feeling tingled down her spine. She froze, and turned slowly toward a patch of thick brush not far off. The tangled mess of thorny branches obscured completely what lay beyond, but Ralienah could not shake the feeling that there was something, someone, there.
Eotel? She swallowed, casting another glance toward the butte. If he had found himself in need of a hiding place, the brambles would have been a natural place to run to as the soldiers drew near.
Carefully, she pushed aside the branches and wove her way into the brambles. All was still, but for the forest sounds that echoed overhead. There were hollows and thickets all around, and deer paths that made it easier to move through what might otherwise have been a nightmare to navigate.
A twig snapped, and Ralienah straightened. Heart pounding, she ducked under a branch and came through into the next thicket, expecting to find Eotel--
--and came face to face with a soldier, facing her with his sword drawn and a cold, inquisitive expression on his angular face.
Ralienah tensed, kicking herself inside for her eagerness. In an instant she was in battle-ready position, certain he would attack in a moment.
But the soldier made no move, only regarded her in silent consideration. Recognition flickered in his eyes, even as Ralienah noticed the small iron circlet over his black-and-silver hair.
With mounting horror, Ralienah realized she was staring at Lord Istarr.
For a moment they simply stood, staring at one another. His pale blue eyes regarded her with what seemed like surprise.
She felt frozen, trapped, yet oddly unwilling to flee. Instead, she studied him as well. He was tall and austere, with square shoulders and a graceful stance. He looked to be about forty-five or fifty years of age, though he had a peculiar sort of agelessness about him that made it difficult to tell.
“It's you,” he said at last, his eerily soft voice cutting though the silence.
Straightening her shoulders, she nodded. “We meet at last, Lord Istarr.”
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In the original draft, Ralienah would not have met her antagonist, Istarr, until much much later in the story. But as I wrote this newer draft, it felt wrong to have her fighting against a faceless evil for so long. In this version of the story, I've tried to have Ralienah's struggles be just as much internal as they are external. So though she is fighting for the freedom of the oppressed people of Talminia, she is also trying to prove her worth to herself and others. Istarr needed to serve as an obstacle to this as well as to the freedom of the people.
This is an example of the kind of character development I've been trying to employ throughout the story. How successful I will be remains to be seen, but I intend to give it my best. :)
Anyway, that's where I am with my writing right now. Other projects, such as my short stories, have taken something of a back seat in favor of RoR, but my other novels remain on the table... they just move much slower.
Pray for me, if you will! I've got busy days and a lot of pressure with this new job, and I'm still hoping to keep up with my writing somehow--not to mention my personal life with my family and stuff. I'm looking forward to what the next few months will bring, but I'll admit I'm a little nervous.
Anyway, it's nice to be blogging again. Hopefully I'll be able to get a few posts out in the coming weeks.
Until next time!
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