Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It is Finished...

This is just a short blog entry to let you know that "Everburn" is finished.

While I really enjoyed writing this story, I got snagged on the ending for a little while. By the time I finished entirely, I was getting a little tired of my setting. I always have this problem. Even though I love Steampunk, after writing a full book in the genre, I need a little break. So, long story short I'm taking a little break from writing this week, proofing the book next week, then having my husband read it for content afterward. And now, it's time to change genres. (I say this in the Mad Hatter voice, like changing seats at the tea party.) Even though I do fully intend to make this book into a trilogy, and have the notes to start the second book, I just really need a break. I love Steampunk too much to burn myself out on it.

I think, for the next novel, I'm going back to horror. I've written many horror stories and they are really what I consider myself best at writing. Still, I've never been able to come up with a concept for a book. (I do have a Lovecraftian novel that's almost finished, but right now I'm referring to traditional horror.) Most of my horror stories are pretty long. I think the longest one was about thirty pages, but I've never tried to write that style of novel. It should be a challenge, and I like challenges.

So, I'll keep you posted on how it's going. I might even add a writing sample from it later, and possibly a sneak peak at Everburn after I'm done proofing. In the meantime, keep reading and writing. And, based on what I've read of the first and second book, I highly recommend "The Dresden Files." (I'll try to write a review of that later.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Curse of the Eight Ball...

This is just an update of what's been going on lately.

In writing news, I'm very very close to being finished with my "Everburn" book. I'm probably two short chapters from the end, but unfortunately I've run into some unexpected writer's block. I really should have learned this was coming by now, but for some reason it still takes me by surprise.

Basically, a good analogy of what I'm going through usually happens to me when I'm playing a good game of pool. I could be running the table for the entire game, but when I get to the eight ball, inevitably I'll either scratch or call the wrong pocket. When I get to the end of a book, unfortunately sometimes my writing style starts to go downhill. It's like I feel the pressure to finish but for some reason I can't get myself to do it. Eventually I'll work my way through it and come up with something good, but for now I've hit that point again where I'm not "feeling it." I'm hoping to finish my book by the end of the week, but I'm not going to force it. Still, I think I'll feel much happier when I do.

When I finish the book, I decided that I'm going to take a week or two off of writing to relax and brainstorm. I'm trying to decide if I want to work on the next book of this series or start on something totally new. Normally, I would continue with the series, but, the problem is, I don't want to burn myself out on the steampunk genre. I like it too much to do that. So, I'm thinking of maybe turning my attentions back to the horror genre for a little while. I've always had trouble coming up with a novel length horror story, but from what I understand, my short horror stories are usually stellar. (My very first attempt at a horror story to submit to an anthology was accepted right away.)

Speaking of horror stories (and that one specifically), "Courting Morpheus" is finally finished. I got my first copy of it in the mail about a week ago. I have to admit, I'm glad to finally see that it came to fruition, and it looks pretty darn good. "Hemophobia" is the first story that I wrote specifically to submit to an anthology. That was nearly four years ago, so seeing it in print is kind of like seeing an old friend again, dressed for success. I've read most of the stories in "Courting Morpheus" already and enjoyed them. Please, show your support and pick up a copy. It's worth it.

Anyway, that's what's been going on right now. I guess it's back into the fray. I've got a book ending to try to write, chores to do, and a party to plan for my husband.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Last week I just finished reading "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" by Gregory Maguire. I've been curious about this book for a long time, mostly because fairy tales and different takes on classic fairy tales interest me. And, even though the Wizard of Oz probably isn't classified as a fairy tale per se, it fits close enough to captivate my attention. Also, I heard good things about the musical "Wicked" so I wanted to see what the book was about.

What to say about this book...interesting. Yes, interesting is the best word I can use to describe it. I can't say it was exciting. In fact, I'd probably say it was pretty dull for the most part. The most exciting part of the story is at the beginning when Melena is giving birth to her baby, Elphaba, who will one day be the Wicked Witch of the West. The beginning was intriguing because of the mysterious nature of the Witch's birth.

The Munchkinlanders are being led astray from their unionist religion and their moral standards by a large clockwork magical device called "The Clock of the Time Dragon." Frex, Melena's husband and the preacher of the town, goes to try to lead the Muchkins away from the device. Through a perverse puppet show, Frex is made to seem like a corrupt religious leader and the people of the town turn against him. He manages to escape by the kindness of a widow, but that leads the villagers towards his home where his wife is trying to deliver her child. His wife is taken away from the home into the nearby cemetery, and actually gives birth inside of the Clock of the Time Dragon that was being hidden there. As though by a curse, her baby is born green with sharp teeth like those of a shark. Melena eventually finds solace in an affair with a Quadling (another race of people in Oz), and later gives birth to another girl who has no arms with normal skin, named Nessarose, and a boy named Shell.

Most of the book takes place in Shiz University, where Elphaba meets Glinda and they form a friendship. However, I thought from the cover of the book and from some of the scenes I saw from that musical that they were supposed to be best friends. Perhaps they were, but if so, the book didn't convey it very well. Glinda seems mostly ashamed to be around her through most of the book and doesn't seem to take up the mantle of the things that are important to Elphaba. They are friends, but don't seem close. Elphaba spends a great deal of time advocating rights for talking animals (known as Animals with a capital A). The Wizard of Oz is taking rights away from the Animals, little by little, and eventually has them shipped off to farms to live like normal animals for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, Glinda is learning sorcery and hanging out with the social elite of the school.

In this book the "Wicked Witch of the East (Nessarose)" and the "Wicked Witch of the West" are not evil at all. They never became evil and the harsh way that Elphaba treats Dorothy at the end seems uncharacteristic of her. The Wizard in this book mirrors the worst dictators in history and is the only real villain. I think at the very end of the book, he's also supposed to be a bit of a sympathetic character because you get to see glimpses of his harsh past, but he's been so cruel and ruthless throughout the whole book there's no way to paint him in a rose tinted light enough to even redeem him slightly.

I've read the Wizard of Oz as a child, but I haven't read many of Frank Baum's other works on Oz. I think for a fair review of how to compare and contrast this book to them I would need to do a bit more research. Still, I do know some things were changed to make this book a reality. So, I'll just say, in conclusion, this was a very odd book and, while I'm glad that I satiated my curiosity about it, I'm ready to move on to "The Dresden Files." If you enjoyed The Wizard of Oz, or other books that depict Oz, then you would probably enjoy this as a different take on the story. Still, you might be a bit disappointed by the necessary changes that had to be made to the storyline to create it. Overall, I did enjoy the book, but it is very odd and a little slow.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Stand (Complete and Uncut)

Well, after over three weeks of reading, I'm finally finished with "The Stand." This is the complete and uncut version, and the book is basically three books rolled into one. It was one thousand, one hundred, and forty-one pages long. I have to admit, this book definitely felt like an epic adventure (it would have to for me to spend nearly a month reading it).

First of all, let me begin this entry by saying I don't typically like post apocalyptic stories. But, since I'm trying to read almost all of Stephen King's novels, particularly stories that are related to "The Dark Tower" series, I decided I needed to read this one as well. I bought the book when I was in high school and never got around to reading it, mostly due to it's length. I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment that I finished this book despite my preconceived ideas about post apocalyptic fiction, and I did mostly enjoy it.

For those of you who don't know, "The Stand" is about the aftermath of a biologically engineered plague from the United States, a very horrible mutating version of the flu. By a freak accident, this biological weapon is set loose on the world, starting with the US. The first book introduces us to the main characters (a small group of people whose later actions will ensure the survival or the downfall of society), and the immediate aftermath of what's going on; the chaos, the gore, the lawlessness, and the eerie quiet caused by most of the population dying.

The second book is about the journey of these people. They start having strange dreams about a kind old woman called Mother Abigail that is telling them to come and meet her first in Nebraska and later in Boulder, Colorado, and a terrifying man, Randall Flagg, who causes them nightmares and is clearly starting a settlement in the West at what remains of Las Vegas. All of the survivors of the plague are drawn to either Mother Abigail or Randall Flagg depending on what they value. Most of the survivors form a large settlement in Boulder, Colorado, while, meanwhile, most of those drawn to Randall Flagg are collecting weapons to unleash on Mother Abigail's settlement to kill off the survivors.

The third book is about the four main characters compelled by fate to meet Flagg head on, to make a stand against him.

As you can see, I tried very hard not to leave any spoilers in my plot summary, though, I did spoil the fact that Randall Flagg is involved. My apologies, but that seemed important and it is a, 'Oh wow!' moment to figure out that he's such an integral character in the plot. Truthfully, though, I didn't really get into the book until about book two when he first emerged, so I'm hoping this ahead of time knowledge will get you to read it as well. I also tried to be as brief as possible. I could go into the lives of each and every character, but that would take far longer than you'd care to read. (There are at least twenty one important characters in this book, also several less important characters as well.) The point is, I don't feel I need to do that to tell you the pluses and minuses of this book.

One of the best things about this book was each of the characters changed throughout the story. Some of the main characters weren't very likable when they started out, but got much better as the book progressed. Likewise, some of the "bad guys" in the story were sympathetic characters by the end of the book. Also, some likable characters in the beginning eventually became less sympathetic. One of Stephen King's strong points is the way he creates believable, dynamic, characters. And, once again, he didn't disappoint about that aspect in this book.

One of the things I didn't like about the story, however, was that it did drag on too long. Even though I understand why he put so much detail into the story's setting, obviously to paint a picture of a post-apocalyptic world, it actually bored me. There was one chapter about people who randomly died after the plague (things like accidentally shooting themselves, a child falling down a well, etc.). And, while again I understand the reasoning behind the chapter (this was to show that the plague wasn't the only thing that killed people and there was a great deal of random death afterward), I nearly put the book down at that point. The book was so depressing as it was that hearing about more random death didn't do anything for me and I became bored with the concept, sort of like a person turning off the news when they hear nothing but bad news for too long.

Still, I don't attribute the fact that I was reading the uncut version to why the story felt like it was droning on. I think it was just the way it was written. There was just too much detail. After you see one highway clogged with cars that have become coffins for the dead passengers inside of them, you feel like you've seen them all--wow, that's a strange concept, but true. He describes many scenes that just seem the exact same as the scene before it. The eeriness of going through a totally dark tunnel is explored in one particular scene early in the book, so when this happens again, I don't need a recap. It was things like that that made the book seem longer than it actually was.

The last complaint I have is a minor one. My favorite character died like a chump (in other words, in a quick and pointless way) at least three hundred pages from the end. I won't spoil anything by telling you who, but I will say most of the main characters do die by the end of this book. In fact, I was disappointed by the ones who survived because oddly, most of them were my least favorite. There was one that was one of my favorites that survived too, but when you're attached to four or five characters, and all of them but one die, it's kind of a downer. It also makes the rest of the book seem slow because you don't care as much about the characters that made it. I'm just telling you so that you are prepared when you read it, for the sacrifices at the end.

Other than that, this was a very good book. Like I said, since I don't like post-apocalyptic fiction typically, you know it has to be good to keep my attention to the end. By the end of this book I felt like I had walked in the character's shoes and knew all of the characters very well. This was probably the most satisfying story that I've ever read because almost all of the loose ends were tied up and it didn't leave me wondering much, and it was so long that finishing it felt literally like finishing a journey, which is very appropriate for this story.

Still, the story does end on a huge down note, since (and I'm not spoiling anything by saying this if you are a Stephen King fan) Randall Flagg survives. Also, I hated the last line about "Do you think...do you think people ever learn anything," when the remaining character is asking if people will basically learn not to pollute the earth again since the earth is "recovering" from mankind's influence. It was so environmentally PC that it made me throw up in my mouth a little. Plus, the line came out of nowhere to me because the book mostly up until this point seemed to be about people killing other people, rather than the impact of man on the environment. But still, like I said, this is a good book and if you've got the time, you should read it. It starts out a little slow, but by the end you won't be able to put it down.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Sorry this review is so late. I'm trying to keep up with this blog, but there's a lot to do.

I've got to say this movie took me by surprise. I heard it was good from some of my friends, but the hype made me doubt that it would be good at all. I've noticed a trend with movies lately; usually whenever a movie is the subject of many commercials, McDonald's happy meals, special offers, and Superbowl advertisements, it always leaves something to be desired. I'm pleased to say that this movie breaks that rule.

"How to Train Your Dragon" is about a young Viking named "Hiccup" who has always wanted to slay a dragon. Still, unlike the other Vikings, he's small and scrawny and whenever he tries to fight dragons, he fails miserably and it ends in disaster. His Father, is the leader of the clan and the two of them have very little in common. Then, one day, Hiccup manages to wound the most dangerous of all dragons, a Nightfury, and when he tracks it down, he finds he can't kill it. Instead he forges a strong friendship with the creature, learns to ride it, and it teaches him a great deal about all dragons. Once he realizes he doesn't want to slay dragons, his Father finally grants his original wish and makes him join the other Vikings his age to learn how to slay dragons. He uses what he's learned to "fake" his way through dragon training. Once his Father finds out, he uses the information to track down the dragon's nest. Hiccup and his friends must fight to save the dragons, the other Vikings, and stop the terrible creature that is about to be unleashed.

The humor in this movie is very good and some of it is geared towards gamers (which I liked very much). There were some scenes that actually made me laugh out loud, which was refreshing. The main character is sarcastic and smarmy, but he's also very likable. He's basically the underdog, and you really want him to succeed in what he wants to accomplish. There are many funny jokes that you might miss the first time around, such as the Viking that is missing an arm has a beer mug attachment and an ax attachment as well.

The dragons in the movie are very catlike. This seemed very appropriate because I've always thought if dragons didn't talk they would have more catlike features, being very aloof and a bit snobby. (Perhaps appraising you and finding you wanting, etc...) It's also funny because it makes the dragons slightly unpredictable, giving them attitude and personality, particularly "Toothless," Hiccup's dragon.

The special effects in this movie are very good. I like the textures on the dragons' scales. You can almost imagine what they would feel like. The animation is caricature with enough realism to lose yourself in the movie. Basically the animation was very cool.

I'm trying to think of complaints for this movie, but I really don't have any. I am kind of biased because I've always loved dragons and have always thought Vikings were cool so the thought of Vikings riding dragons warms my heart. It would be a concept worthy of an RPG. Who knows, maybe someone will run a game like that one day. Anyway, I enjoyed the movie and I highly suggest you see it. It may be too late for some theaters, but even if it is, at least rent it. It's definitely worth watching.