Friday, June 27, 2014

Dark Crystal Author Quest

Hey Everyone,

The Dark Crystal Author Quest e-book is finally available through amazon.  :-)

If you're a fan of The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson, or Penguin Books, please pick up a copy.  There are five very good stories within it that are worth your time and money.  This might sound like a shameless plug for my own work, but it isn't because all of the stories were very fun to read and fit very well in the Dark Crystal universe.  If you like the Dark Crystal, you'll like this e-book.

I picked up the book the first day it was available, June 24th, and I'm very honored to be included with so many good authors.  I must admit, though, I'm not as confident about potentially winning the contest after reading the other stories.  I think I have as good a chance as anyone, but I think the Jim Henson company has their work judging cut out for them.  I'm still praying to win it.  Every one of the featured authors, myself included, has something different to offer in their interpretation of the universe, and all of us have different strengths and weaknesses as writers.  I think what it really comes down to is what type of story the Jim Henson company wants, and it isn't a bad reflection on any of us as writers if we lose.

When I first became one of the five finalists, that I was looking at the other four finalists as competition, and I didn't like myself for it.  I try not to be the type of person to be jealous or bitter.  I can be a sore loser on small things, like video games, but on bigger things I don't tend to be that way.  For some reason, this time I started to feel really competitive, and I didn't like the feeling.  

Long story short, I decided that wasn't who I was, and I started looking at the other finalists as people, and colleagues.  We're all in this book together, and we all want the same thing, so why not make this a friendly competition?  We all have at least one thing in common, other than this book as well--we're all writers.  I've already reached out to one of the finalists and I think we've become pretty good pen pal type friends.  I'll probably reach out to the others as well at some point in the very near future.  If they don't want to be "friend friends" that's fine, but I feel like wishing everyone "good luck."  I still want to win, but I am hoping that whoever is chosen is the best person for the job.  Depending on what Jim Henson's would want, I may or may not be that person.  I think that I can be.

Anyway, I rambled on about this for too long.  Time to review the book.  (To those who have seen the movie "The Dark Crystal" there are no spoilers in this review...if you haven't perhaps you should wait and watch the movie or read the book first.)

Vinni Chiappini "The Gelfling Guardian" - This story features a Gelfling of the Spriton Clan who works as a guard of the Castle of the Crystal.  He looks to the Skeksis with respect and admiration until he finds out that they might be responsible for the disappearances of Gelfling and Podlings all over Thra.  He has to decide between his loyalty to them, or his loyalty to his people and search for the truth.  I think the strongest element of this story is that the Podlings were portrayed as a very sympathetic, intelligent race, which is important since they are the first victims of the crystal.  It makes the sacrifice of the Podlings a very real problem.

Greg Coles "Rebels of the Dark Crystal" - The main character of this story is a Harath (Woodland) Clan Gelfling who is crippled and working as a blacksmith in the woods.  His friend, a soldier of the Crystal Castle, stumbles into his forge one evening in shambles, and accidentally dreamfasts with him.  Through the dreamfasting, he learns that the soldier discovered a terrible secret kept by the Skeksis that puts him in terrible danger as well.  One of the strengths of Coles' story is that it's written in first person, so it pulls the reader in and makes the main character very sympathetic.  Also, since the main character is disabled, it makes his struggle particularly poignant.

Nancy Gray "Chosen" - Sorry, I'm not reviewing my own story, that would be silly.  Please, read it and tell me what you think.  It's about a Gelfling of the Sifa Clan that is chased by a waterspout onto a deserted island.  While there, he and his friend find an abandoned cabin containing a journal with information about the Skeksis that puts them and their families in danger.

J. M. Lee "Shadows of the Dark Crystal" - This story is about a Gelfling girl from the Drenchen Clan who goes to find her cousin, a guard at the Castle of Crystal, and finds more than she expected.  She and her Father are attacked by a huge nebrie that has been driven mad by the crystal's darkened light.  She must travel alone to find Aughra to tell her what happened and for advice.  Lee's descriptions of setting are eloquent and beautiful, painting the images into the mind's eye.  His characters are also likable and the creatures are interesting, especially the Gelfling girl's pet.

Esther Palmer "Music of the Shards" - A young Gelfling girl from the Vapra Clan is playing just outside of her village when the child she's playing with is killed by a Skeksis, "The Hunter."  She finds out that her Grandmother is the keeper of a journal from a soldier from the Castle of Crystal.  She tells Esther to go to Aughra with the journal to find out what to do, but it seems her journey is far from over.  Palmer has a way with words and some very vivid imagery, especially in darker scenes.  

That's about it for the review.  As I've said, I don't envy the judges for having to choose between so many good stories.  I hope that I win, but right now I just feel honored to be among this very talented group of finalists.  Please, consider buying this book.  You won't regret it.

Keep reading and writing, and never give up.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Skin Game and Childhood Horror

I borrowed the new Dresden Files book, "Skin Game," and once again I can't say enough good things about that series.  I'll be adding it to the collection once I have the money, but I need to buy some of the other previous books first.  One thing at a time, maybe one day I'll have an income...

Anyway, continuing with the book review, the characters are all so good that I can't really pick a favorite (though, I'm favoring Waldo Butters right now), and the plot had me so hooked that I finished reading it in three days.  I missed out on a little sleep, but it was worth it.  Jim Butcher really knows how to create likable, awesome characters and some very disturbing villains.  One of the things I think is most important about writing a good book is coming up with good characters, but he also has interesting plot twists, humor, drama, and a great setting.  I usually write specifics about the books I review, but this time I'm not going to go into a thorough review since it would give away plot from the previous books.  I will say if you haven't read this series, seriously, go pick up "Storm Front" right now.  This is the best urban fantasy series I've ever read and the books just keep getting better.

I've also been reading some young reader horror to get an idea about how to write my story.  I've been pleasantly surprised.  I read "Scary Stories, Goodnight Zombie" by James Preller, and am currently reading "Wanted, The Haunted Mask" by R. L. Stine.  I didn't think that they would be very graphic or scary, but I was wrong.  I remember being scared by R. L. Stine books when I was a young reader and enjoying them, but I didn't expect to be so impressed by them now that I'm an adult.

Even though I'm going to tone down my violence a bit for my story, it seems I don't need to tone down very much.  The descriptions of the flesh dangling over the main characters eye feeling like hamburger meat, in "Goodnight Zombie," surprised me.  And, even more disturbing, the old man at the beginning of "Wanted, the Haunted Mask" pulls the mask off of his face and the flesh from his face with it, killing him.  Long story short, it makes me think my descriptions in my horror story might even be pretty tame in comparison.

I shouldn't be too surprised.  Children are fascinated by gore and tend to enjoy a safe scare.  The world is a pretty scary place, and I believe (much like Jim Henson) that sometimes being a little scared from a story is healthy for a child, especially if the story shows the character being brave and standing up to things that frighten him/her.  I remember when I was in elementary school reading "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" with my best friend and being horrified and fascinated at the same time.  I think, I can write my story to be scary, and that children that like scary stories will be able to handle it.

If I end up winning the Dark Crystal contest, I'll put this project on hold for a later date, but in the meantime, it's very fun to read these type of books again and work on something new.

In conclusion, READ "SKIN GAME" BY JIM BUTCHER!  It's the best one in the Dresden Files yet, but be sure to read this series in order.  One thing that is slightly negative about the Dresden Files is there are a LOT of characters and villains, and if you don't read the books in order, you will be lost.

Also, if you want to remember what it was like to be freaked out by scary stories as a kid, read James Preller or R. L. Stine.  (And,one day maybe even, "Nancy Gray," who also hopefully wrote the first prequel series for "The Dark Crystal."  Hey, I'm allowed to dream!  No I haven't heard anything back yet and only have a one in five chance of winning, but if I've learned anything from this process it's to be optimistic.)  ;-)  Anyway, Take care everybody.  Keep reading!