Monday, February 22, 2010

New Concepts and Activities

This blog is mostly a general update, but I also have some good writing news to share. I'm glad to say my short story "Marrow" was accepted into "No One Can Hear You Scream: An Anthology of Deep Space Horror." I'm very glad that worked out because I thought "Marrow" was a good concept and I've been looking for a good home for that story for a long time now. I had to cut about two thousand words out of it (this was very difficult for me to do, but it needed to be done) and I found that when I was finished the story became much more fast-paced and was actually much better. Still, I think when the rights run out for this anthology I'll try to get the full version published somewhere else. There were a lot of interesting setting descriptions and character development scenes I had to remove. Still, the one critique I had of the story was that it was a little too slow starting out. That problem was fixed for this anthology, so overall I think it's a better story now than it was. I'm still waiting to hear back from "Arkham Tales: A Magazine of Weird Fiction" where I submitted "Waterspouts" and the "New Bedlam e-zine" about my story "Sleep Like the Dead" that I resubmitted. Please, wish me luck.

Currently I'm reading "Insomnia" by Stephen King. This is yet another book I don't recommend reading until you have a lot of time on your hands to read it nonstop. It's been very difficult for me to put it down. This book causes insomnia if you don't get to a good stopping point. This is also the first book where I've actually caught a glimpse of the actual Dark Tower, which I thought was very interesting. I'll write a more thorough review when I'm done. It's a six hundred and sixty three page book, and I'm on page four hundred and fifty five, and I only started it last week. Yep, I'm addicted, but I do tend to read obsessively.

I'm hoping to get some more books for my birthday. I'm going to at least ask for "Reliquary," "City of Saints and Madmen," and I think that my friends are going to buy me the first book in "The Dresden Files." I've heard good things about all of these books, so I'm looking forward to it. And, if there are any others that I decide I want that I don't get, there's always the library.

I just was inspired to write another novel as well. I had a concept for a steampunk novel set in a fantasy universe a long time ago. I wrote a short story based on the concept, but it wasn't my best story, and it didn't get into the anthology I was working towards. Still, it's for the best, because now I'm ready to expand on that story into a series of novels. I've been writing notes for a few days now, creating a mythos for the setting of the books. It's a story of fey, winged humans, and normal humans at war with one another in a world where steam rules industry, and people make pacts with spirits and elementals to help them power their machines. While I don't have the full plot worked out, I have created part of the setting and most of the character concepts. Hopefully this week I can roughly map out the world so I know what boundaries I have to play in. Let me know what you think of the idea. I was inspired by many different things, and the universe has the feel of a Hayao Miyazaki film combined with a great deal of steampunk literature.

Other than that, I've been doing my usual housework, visiting with my family, and writing at a story or two. Still, I have a new addiction now, the game Heroes V. (For those who have never played it, it's a turn-based strategy game where you hire a hero to guide your army, gather resources, and build up your armies in an attempt to overtake the towns of other heroes. We've been playing cooperatively and it's a lot of fun. Oddly, since it is a fantasy setting, in some ways it's inspiring as well. It's odd, but sometimes when I don't feel inspired, certain video games will inspire me. (Oblivion was one that really helped aid in my inspiration, because since it was both an adventure game and a role-playing game, I could picture the sort of things the character might be thinking or feeling and it was a good exercise for my imagination.) Maybe I'm just odd that way...

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this blog and I hope you're having a good Monday. Take care. I have a book to plan.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Relic: A Pleasant Surprise

A week ago I just finished reading the novel "Relic." For those of you who have seen the movie, "The Relic," please disregard everything in it, because the movie is nothing like the book. In fact, the movie was so bad that I think my mind blocked any memories of it out to protect me from losing any more brain cells.

Since the movie was so horrible I was slightly skeptical about the book. Also, this is the second book given to me by the friend who gave me, "The Ruins" and, if you've read my review of that, suffice to say I wasn't a fan. However, I'm pleased to say his praise of this book was accurate. This book is a fast paced adventure taking place in an eerie setting with everything you want a from a best seller; likable characters, suspense, action, and even a setup for a sequel.

The story takes place in the New York Museum of Natural History. Guests are being murdered by evisceration and part of their brains are removed post-mortem. Those in charge of the museum are trying to keep the matter quiet, afraid that it will ruin their chances of opening the "Superstition" exhibit. It's a controversial exhibit that they hope will renew the public's interest in the museum, basically saving it from bankruptcy. However, as more murders occur, the city police and FBI are called in to investigate, and despite the authorities' best efforts to close the museum for the protection of the public, the museum directer pulls some strings and opens the exhibit anyway. This culminates in a dramatic climax where the people invited to the opening ceremony are being picked off by terrifying monster, one by one.

All of the main characters in this story are likable in some way. Even the directors of the museum are sympathetic characters by the end of the novel when they finally realize how foolish their actions were. The main character, Margo, manages to remain feminine while breaking the stereotypes associated with female protagonists. (Hence, she doesn't conform to the weak female stereotype of so many others...) This is also the first book where I've actually liked the figure of a journalist. Most journalist characters really annoy me, because they're willing to do ANYTHING to get a story and often are very crass and cold when it comes to innocent victims. While, Smithback, the journalist, does occasionally seem slightly cold to the plight of innocents, his roguish wit and sense of humor make him one of the most likable characters for me.

Really, the only criticism I have for this novel is in the character of the first FBI agent to show up to investigate the crime. Agent Pendergast seemed very unbelievable to me. We're talking about a man who can read people perfectly, with a well-read education in art, literature, blood splatter, and pretty much any other subject he encounters. Supposedly, he was also one of the only survivors of a special forces group in a Camboidian death camp. And, did I mention he has the demeanor of basically James Bond even though he is supposedly from New Orleans? If the author hadn't specifically said he was from New Orleans, I would be wondering why a British detective was assigned to the case. He says, "Capital!" And, being raised in the South, though not New Orleans, I can tell you, that isn't a phrase we use down here. The author even likens him to Sherlock Holmes in the eyes of his character foil, D'Agosta, the New York city Lieutenant. In my mind, very cynically, I said, "No, sh**?" Anyway, not a very realistic character because no one in reality is that awe inspiring. Still, he was a likable character as well and he and D'Agosta played very well off of one another.

The setting of this book is absolutely amazing. You can visualize the museum perfectly as though you were there, and yet it has the feel of unknown territory. It's as though the depths of the museum are a ruin in and of themselves that few have traversed. Also, the idea of gruesome murders in a museum makes the reader uncomfortable since they're public places, and they usually feel so safe and secure. There's something disquieting about the idea of someone being murdered in a place of learning. Also, the series of tunnels beneath the museum adds an interesting twist to the storyline in a place where people could get lost and never found, or where a terrifying monster could lurk waiting to pounce... I also liked the idea of tunnels beneath the museum because, living in South Carolina, I know there are similar tunnels beneath Columbia and the probability they would exist in other cities is likely.

The thing that impressed me most about this book was the fact it also made the "museum monster" actually very frightening. When you think about what the creature actually looks like, you get the impression of a "B-movie" monster. In fact, what it made me think of most was the monster in the crate from "The Crate" in the movie "Creepshow." Still, the way the creature is described along with the foul smell that precedes it, creates enough suspense and a mental image just vague enough for your imagination to fill in the blanks. A person's imagination can definitely come up with something inhumanly scary if given just enough dotted lines to fill in the horrific gaps.

I highly recommend this book, but don't pick it up until you have time to read it nonstop. As for me, I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, "Reliquary."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Steampunk: A Glimpse at a Work in Progress...

Well, I've written an outline of the Steampunk story and the first four pages. I haven't come up with a good title yet, but I think I will once I'm finished. Since I did promise a writing excerpt from it, I'm going to go ahead and put the first few pages on this blog and maybe I'll put a more exciting sample up later. I think that the first few pages give a good feel for the setting, and I tried very hard to make the writing better than usual. Judging from the outline, I'm guessing this story is going to be novella length. I don't have many novella length stories, if any, so at least this will give me something to submit as a novella eventually. In the meantime, it's just been very fun to write. I think after I'm done with short stories (probably around July), I'll start a new novel, but I'm going to take another break from Cyberpunk. Who knows, maybe I'll come up with an idea for a Steampunk novel. We'll see. Well, I hope you like it. Let me know what you think.

Emily heard the hiss of steam, like the hiss of a great dragon releasing a breath of hot air in front of her. She watched through the crack in the door as steam billowed through the air like a cumulous cloud, rushing under the door and through the crack, enveloping her even though she wasn’t in the room. She nearly panicked and ran for the house, as though the steam itself would reveal her presence, but she wanted to see what her Father was working on. This was the first time he told her she wasn’t allowed to come into the workshop, and something about that made the temptation to peek impossible to resist.

She didn’t know what the machine was, and wondered why he had hidden it from her in the first place. All she could see was a very big boiler. It wasn’t attached to any pulleys yet, so there really wasn’t a machine to see. Her Father’s friends were shouting urgently that the pressure was too high and were rushing for the wheels to release the steam, but the wheel her Father was trying to turn seemed to be stuck.

They called, “Let it go, Reginald! Run! It’s going to blow!”

Her father strained against the wheel, “I almost have it.”

Emily’s Father, Reginald, put his boot against the side of the crate next to him pushing against it while pulling and twisting the wheel, trying to get the leverage to make it turn, but it wasn’t moving. She heard the groan of metal as the boiler began to strain and warp. She wanted to scream a warning to him, or at least to rush forward to stop him. If he saw her, her safety would come first and he would grab her and rush out the door and the unthinkable wouldn’t happen, not again. But, as always, she was rooted to the spot, watching helplessly, wishing she could speak but unable to make a sound, and wishing that she was older so she would know what to do.

Reginald’s wheel squeaked loudly as he finally managed to turn it, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t fast enough, either. The bolts of the boiler broke free, pelting the group with shrapnel, sounding like bullets plinking from the gun of a soldier. One of them went through Reginald’s arm, and he released the wheel instinctively to stop the gushing blood, and that’s when the boiler exploded. The sound was deafening, a pop like a zeppelin bursting but the sound of the steam and water rushing out muffled it with more terrifying noise. Her Father screamed in agony, but she could barely hear it for the hissing. Then, in an instant, it was over.

Emily rushed inside, “Dad?”

The steam was starting to clear the moment she opened the door. His prone figure was on the ground, his skin pink and raw like that of a newborn pig, but it was already blistering before her eyes.

He muttered, “The watch, Emily,” and then he died.

That was all that she got to see, but it was an image that would haunt her forever. Her Father’s best friend, Benjamin was picking her up and carrying her away she screamed for her Father over and over again, but she was getting farther away by the second.

Emily woke up and shrieked, “DAD!”

The empty flat just echoed the word back to her.

Emily sighed and muttered, “It’s been fifteen years. Does it ever end?”

Even as she said it, she knew it never would. Emily groaned and wiped the tears she unconsciously shed from her eyes. Sun was streaming in through the window. At least that meant she wasn’t awoken by the nightmares in the middle of the night. She ran her hands through her shoulder-length auburn hair and pulled on a fresh set of knickers, then changed into a button up shirt and vest. Then she added the finishing touches, her goggles, her trusty, but broken, pocket-watch in the lower vest pocket, and a fresh set of cigars in her top vest pocket. The earthy, sweet smell of tobacco tempted her, but it was too early for a smoke.

Emily walked outside towards her shop. She was glad that she was able to get a machine shop so close to her flat. Since it was within walking distance, she didn’t have to own a horse, though she wished she had the money to afford her own steam carriage. White flecks were falling around her, but she knew it wasn’t quite cold enough for snow. Ash was falling from the industrial smokestacks, swirling delicately like playful snowflakes. The air was hazy with smoke and steam, and as usual the grime in the air coated her like a second layer of skin.

Victor’s words echoed in her mind, “Haven’t you noticed, Emily? The city has a rhythm. It has music of its own, and it’s where I find my inspiration. Listen to the steam, the voices, the gentle clopping of horseshoes, the sound of human footsteps. Close your eyes and listen.

How long had it been since she thought about Victor? The nightmare had brought his countenance back into her mind like an apparition, there one moment and then fading away like steam. There were so many memories for her in London, that the streets were populated with ghosts of her past.

Emily mouthed, “And what is the city trying to say to me today?”

She closed her eyes and listened.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Anthologies, The Eyes of the Dragon, and Goals

I'm glad to say that I finished my story for the Zombie Zoology anthology just in time. I also think that it went better than I expected. Hopefully I'll hear some good news about it, but good news or not, I'm proud of myself for finishing in time. It looks like I have my work cut out for me for the next six months. I've picked out sixteen new anthologies to try for, and I've also picked out a few e-zines to submit to as well. Hopefully I can at least publish a few more stories by the end of the year and build up my short story resume. Wish me luck.

As for the agents, all I've gotten so far are more rejections, but I'm not going to let that stop me. Someone will eventually accept my work and I know they'll be glad that they did.

I also finished "The Eyes of the Dragon" today. I'm not going to write a full review, but I will say that I really enjoyed it. Stephen King is a very versatile writer. I like the fact that it had the feel of an old fairy tale and had some of the old fashioned fairy tale cliches (the wizard wakes up the night and a two headed calf is born somewhere in town, etc.). The only complaint I have is that the description of the time Peter is in the tower is tedious to read, but I think that's done for a reason. Peter is trying to build a rope to escape strand by strand and there's a long chapter to describe it. I think you're supposed to feel the tedium with him. I was pleasantly surprised by this story overall, but was kind of disappointed in the ending, because I wanted the fairy tale to continue. I guess in a way it does in "The Dark Tower" series, but wanted to hear the fates of the other characters, particularly Thomas since he had grown on me by the end of the book.

I was a little disappointed because I really wanted to submit to the "Steampunk Reloaded II" anthology, but it's only taking reprints. (I should've noticed that on first glance, but sometimes these things do slip by my very low perception.) Still, I'm not going to let that stop me from writing my own Steampunk story to submit somewhere else. I got really excited about it because I've always liked Steampunk and have only tried my hand at it once. I wanted the opportunity to do it again and to have my work looked at by a writer I respect, but if I can get it published somewhere else, maybe I'll have that opportunity if there's a Steampunk Reloaded III. (Speaking of, I think I'm going to ask for "City of Saints and Madmen" for my birthday in March.)

Still, two more anthologies due by the end of February or not, I'm writing a Steampunk story anyway as though I had a deadline to meet. I'm going to eat, sleep, and breathe, Steampunk until Valentine's day. And, I can't think of a better to take a break from Cyberpunk/horror. When I'm finished, I'll put a caption from it on the blog as a writing sample. I'm looking forward to it, and I hope you are too.