Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Banning Books

Warning: mini rant

I'm sorry, but I just get really agitated when people start talking about banning books. No books should be banned, none. But I think what irks me the most are the books people want banned. I mean, the number one most challenged book of 2010 was And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. This a picture book telling the true story of a chick adopted by two male Emperor penguins at New York's Central Park Zoo. And do you want to know why people wanted this book banned? Because they felt it promoted homosexuality. Penguins people, we're talking about penguins here.

End of rant.

And now a quote from a very smart lady:

"While we firmly support the right of every reader to choose or reject a book for themselves or their families, those objecting to a particular book should not be given the power to restrict other readers' right to access and read that book," said Barbara Jones, director of the ALA's office for intellectual freedom. "As members of a pluralistic and complex society, we must have free access to a diverse range of viewpoints on the human condition in order to foster critical thinking and understanding."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: Nathaniel by John Saul

This book held my attention, though it's not the sort of thing I usually read. There were a couple of twists that mildly surprised me. However, there was a question left unaswered; did the babies die of natural causes or were they killed, either by human hands or as the result of a supposed family curse? I don't know. That annoys me. Also, I didn't like the ending. It didn't feel to me that it was the natural conclusion to the story.

Book Review: Silver May Tarnish by Andre Norton & Lyn McConchie

This book is written from two different viewpoints, both in first person. The chapters are clearly marked so you know who is speaking, which helps to avoid the kind of confusion this sort of viewpoint can cause. However, there are some places where we see the same scene through two different viewpoints and there is dialogue in one where there wasn't in the other. I found this mildly annoying. One of the viewpoint characters, Meive, had a certain kind of relationship with bees which was interesting.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Review: Phytosphere by Scott Mackay

This book was a little heavy on the science for my taste. It does get right into the main problem from the start, but it's a little slow on the action. There are three viewpoint characters, two of which are scientists. The third is the wife of one of the scientists and it's her viewpoint I liked best, because she was an ordinary woman trying to protect her kids.
There was a point where I considered not finishing the book because I got so bored, but I muddeled through and eventually there was some good action and even a few scenes that made me tear up, which is always a plus.
The writing was fine, the plot was well paced, and the characters were both believable and three dimensional, but all in all this book simply wasn't to my taste.

Monday, April 4, 2011


This short story was published by Daikaijuzine in June of 2010. I was looking out the car window at some clouds and they looked like mountains. I imagined an angel with black wings standing atop those mountains and thus this story was born.

The breathless heat grows no cooler as I climb, but at least on the mountain I have not the bones of the lost to look upon. Only gray rock around me, endless sky above. There is some fragment of a memory taunting me from the edges of my mind, but it keeps itself well out of reach.
And through it all, I feel her presence, close, waiting. I turn a corner and there she is. She stands with her back to me, black wings stark in the sunlight, staring out across the vast desert that was so long the entirety of my world. Somewhere far away is a shimmer that might be water, or merely illusion.
“Do you know where you are?” she asks.
I lick my dry, cracked lips, uncertain if words can pass through. “No.”
“This is the end of the world.”
I blink, my eyes thick with grit. “I don’t understand.”
She turns to face me, eyes blue as the sky, clear yet somehow clouded. She’s familiar yet not, like a faded photograph of a place you were before you were old enough to hold onto the memory. “No one ever made it to the mountain before. You’re the first.”
“Why me?” I ask. “I only walked, I don’t even know how this started.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re here, that’s my only concern.”
“Who are you?”
She sighs. “You humans, always needing to place a name on a thing as if that will help you better understand it’s nature. If you must call me something, call me Angel, for that is how you
perceive me.”
“Are you? An angel, I mean.”
“Hardly.” She steps past me. “Enough of this, we have much to do and precious little time in which to do it.”
She walks and I follow, no less confused.
She doesn’t even hesitate as we reach the far edge of the mountain, she merely steps out into the thin air, takes several steps, disappears.
I stand where I am, stunned, unsure of what I should do.
Her head and a single arm reappear. “What are you waiting for?”
I blink, having trouble believing my own eyes, and stutter something unintelligible.
“Enough,” she says. “Believe what you do, not what you see.”
I take a breath, then step one foot out into nothing, expecting to lose my balance and fall. Instead, my foot stops as if I had struck solid ground. So I take the risk and bring my left foot out to meet the right.
The world falls away to the ground far below, but I am suspended in midair like a tightrope walker without the rope. And without a net, should the laws of gravity choose to right themselves.
I take a few steps and find myself standing in a cave. I turn around and behind me is a stone wall. Curious, I reach out to touch the wall, expecting my hand to pass through. It doesn’t. The wall is as solid as any I have ever touched.
“Stop playing,” Angel calls from up ahead.
I stare at my hand, at the wall, then I turn and run to catch up to her.
A cave should be dark, I would think, but this one has plenty of light, though the source is a mystery. Walking beside Angel, I burn to ask questions but I hold silent. I’m afraid of her answers.
I fear this is Hell and she my guide through it, though I can’t think of anything I may have done to warrant such a fate.
The sight I see before me drives all other thoughts from my mind. A colossal cavern heaping with gold, jewels, and treasure beyond naming.
“What is this?” I ask.
“A test of a sort.” Angel never takes her eyes from my face. “You need to find something for me.”
“I don’t know.”
She will say no more than this and so I wonder in among the riches. Part of me wants to wade into the gold hip deep like a river, scoop the jewels up in my arms let them fall like spring showers, go wild.
But another part sees this with the eyes of a child and remembers stories where such places deceive you with their shine and sparkle, only to ensnare you with your own greed. If this truly is Hell, there may be fire and brimstone waiting below the surface.
I turn to speak to Angel, only to find myself alone. I thought I stayed what looked to be the main path, but it seems I must have strayed for now there is no path at all. My chest tightens, my heart jumps. Is this to be my punishment for some crime I can’t remember?
I stop and hold still, trying to grip my pinwheeling emotions. I see one treasure among many and not something I would normally give a second look. But I’m drawn to it all the same.
Strange black symbols tattoo a silver bladed sword leaning against a gold chest. The symbols dance at my approach and I’m mesmerized for reasons beyond my understanding.
I think I should be afraid of this thing, but I’m not. I reach out, wrap my hands around the hilt. The sword is much lighter than its appearance suggests and it feels good in my hands. There is a rightness to it somehow, it seems more real than the treasure surrounding it.
“You may regret that choice sooner than you think.”
I turn to find Angel standing behind me. “What choice? I only wanted a closer look.”
She stares silently at the sword for a moment, then looks at me. “Time to go.”
I expected a return to mountain when we passed back through the wall of the cave, instead I find myself in a tropical forest, tall trees towering overhead. The sun is warm, but not painfully so, and the air is filled with the scent of flowers. This is most certainly not Hell. Could it be I was mistaken about the nature of my dark Angel? I’m more confused than ever.
We move deeper into the forest. Here the stillness is absolute, not a breathe of wind, not a single insect chirrup. Yet, it’s not an oppressive silence, but a peaceful one, as if all the world is whole and content. I feel myself begin to relax as we walk. Perhaps things are not so grim as I feared.
In the middle of this amazonian forest, lies a pristine lake, water the bluest I’ve ever seen, softly reflecting the cotton ball clouds above. To the west, a rocky mountain waterfall, rainbows dancing in the spray.
“What are you waiting for?” Angel asks.
I sense she wants me to approach the lake, though I can’t imagine what for.
My reflection is sharp in the still water. The symbols on the sword shift, first slowly, then picking up speed. My reflection doesn’t ripple as the point of the sword touches the water, but seems instead to grow sharper, as if it were the real me and the me on the shore was the reflection.
The symbols melt down the blade, staining the water red. The color spreads, first engulfing my reflection, than that of the clouds. The sky grows dark as the wind picks up, chill.
I pull the sword back, but it’s too late.
Red flows up the waterfall in reverse, wiping out the rainbows. The rock crumbles, landing in the water with terrible splashing and crashing. The wind howls, pushing me back from the water’s edge.
I turn and Angel is staring at me, black hair dancing around her face, blue eyes bright. If this is what she wants of me and this evil sword I would sooner find myself in that Hell my soul so fears.
Throwing down the sword, I run into the forest. Tees bend back from the force of the wind, leaves swirl, all black now. I run blindly, heart pounding in my head, no idea where I’m going. All I know is that I want to get away. Away from the sword, away from Angel, away from this place. Maybe even away from myself.
Breaking free of the dying forest, I skid to a halt. Angel stands before me, gazing at me calmly as though I shouldn’t be surprised to see her there with endless miles of yellow grass behind her. The sword lies at her feet.
My chest is tight, my stomach sick. The sword looks evil lying there, a blade with teeth. I take it in my hand, hating the rightness of it, hating the feeling of power it gives. A power I don’t want.
Without a word, Angel turns and walks through the tall grass. I follow, the shrieking of the wind fading behind us.
There is no darkness like the darkness of a starless night. I longed for such a night as I made my way across the desert, now I fear what monsters it might bring. I have the sword, but it offers no comfort. A dark thing cannot fend off the shadows.
My eyes grow heavy and as I drift into sleep, images come to me. Faded, blurred, they come, bringing only more confusion with them.
A city in the rain, a splash of blood on my shoe. But the images are distorted, warped almost beyond recognition and they soon leave me.
I wake to Angel’s voice speaking my name. Things have changed during my sleep, the sky has cleared and grown stars, silver dots on black velvet.
“Come with me,” Angel says.
I follow her to the top of a hill and together we gaze up at the stars. It’s beautiful, all these brilliant sparks of luminance twinkling on into infinity. There is no moon that I can see, but all the world is bright with cold light.
The symbols on the sword begin to dance. I know this, though I refuse to take my eyes from the sky. I can feel them.
I lift the sword from my shoulder unwillingly, as if I am no longer in control of my body. As it was by the lake. Holding the sword in both hands, I point the blade toward the sky.
The stars shiver, their light growing in intensity until it’s unbearable to look at them. Then they begin to fall. The sound is akin to thunder but worse, a thousand bombs exploding. Amber light replaces the silver glow, streaking Angel’s face.
Stars dash to the earth around the hill, making the ground tremble until it feels as though it will tear apart at the seams. I am crying, wanting to stop this thing, knowing I can’t.
The sword falls from my numb hands and still the stars die.
When it’s over, there is only silence and the lingering glow of amber light. The sky above is cold now, vacant, dead.
Angel leaves me to myself. Once my tears are cried dry, I pick up the sword and follow.
Dawn comes broken and gray. We walk. Angel is silent, but I sense anxiety in the set of her shoulders, in the slight tremble of her wings. I can’t imagine what she has to worry over, I’m the one who’s trapped in this nightmare.
Beyond the hill lies a sparse, flat land and, away on the not too distant horizon, a city. A city of tall buildings, skyscrapers maybe, by the judge of the outline. Though I can’t imagine what sort of people might inhabit this place.
I try not to focus on this city as we draw near. It’s seems wrong somehow, and not only because it stands here amidst all this emptiness. There’s something else, a distortion, a feeling of misplacement, as if it ought to be in another place, maybe another time.
A flash comes to me. Once again, that city in the rain, but this time I’m not alone. There’s a woman there, she reminds me of Angel in a way, but she’s not. No wings for one thing, a lacking of darkness for another.
She points toward the sky, speaking words that I can’t hear. She shakes her head. Then a pain comes into her eyes, she reaches for me. The memory slips before I can get a proper grasp on it.
As I dreamed while walking, we have come up to stand in the shadow of the city. It’s cold.
Angel turns to face me. “This is the end, time to make your choice.”
I stare back of her, not understanding.
“Come now, no time to waste,” she says. “Will you choose the fire or the rain?”
The symbols on the sword are dancing again. I lift it from my shoulder and stare at the blade, seeing myself reflected in its shining surface. But there is a kind of shadow on my face and behind me, flames.
I close my eyes as the memory overpowers me.
The city is New York, the skyscrapers rising high all around us. I stand on the sidewalk with Michelle as the storm clouds darken overhead. She shivers, so I give her my coat though she would refuse. She smiles, so beautiful. Dark hair, bright eyes, she is my world.
The thunder rumbles and the rain begins to fall.
Michelle laughs, refusing to stand under cover though we must look like fools. She points toward the sky. “What’s that?”
I follow the line of her arm and see a shape there, something with wings. “A bird?”
Michelle shakes her head.
The creature circles overhead and a flash of lightning reveals it to be not a bird, but a person, a person with black wings. An angel, is my only thought.
The ground trembles as the dark day is lit with crimson light.
Balls of fire fall from the sky, the sound of breaking glass close. Michelle turns, pain in her eyes, and reaches for me.
I catch her as she falls, blood dripping on my shoes.
The memory goes and I open my eyes. Angel is still standing there, looking at me, the city behind here reminds me of New York, but isn’t.
“Make your choice, now,” she says.
For the first time in all this long journey I feel myself completely in control, my body is mine again. The sword waits on me, to do with as I choose. To become something else, something beyond this battered body that begins to feel pain, that is what Angel offers. To let loose my humanity and walk in her world.
I lower the sword and strike.
Her eyes grow wide in a face so like Michelle’s, but twisted, dark. The blood that flows from her wound is black like the symbols on the sword, it stains the ground. She stumbles toward me, breath shallow, but I make no move to catch her. By the time she reaches the earth, the life has gone from her eyes.
And as I stand over her, sword in hand, the rain begins to fall.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blurring The Lines Between Fantasy And Reality

This is the fourth and final article of mine that was published in Kalkion in 2009.

The Fantasy Genre is by nature a mixture of the fantastic and the real. Pushing the boundaries is what this brand of fiction is all about. But, though such stories are at their hearts imaginary, there are times when real world objects stand side by side with the fantastic.
As writers we put a lot of care and work into creating our mythical worlds, you should put just as much care and work into making sure the real in your story is true to life.

Weapons can be an important element of your fantasy story. Some readers may not know a long sword from a broad sword but many readers, and editors, do. As a writer, it’s your job to help your readers maintain their suspension of disbelief. Even something like not using the right terms regarding your weapon of choice can damage that.

I once attended a conference where a former policewoman turned crime novelist was telling us about a book she’d read. She said the book was good, until the writer said her lead character ‘cocked a glock.’ Up until that day all I knew of glocks were that they were guns. I had no idea that you don’t cock a glock, but this crime novelist did. She didn’t finish the book or read anything else by that author because it was clear to her that this writer didn’t know what she was talking about. She told us about this and some of us told other people and they told still more people. It’s the domino effect and it can hurt you as a writer.

Even when writing a fantasy story, you have to be careful. You have to know about the weapon you’re describing and make certain it fits both your main character and the story itself. This isn’t as hard as it might seem. When I first began writing I knew almost nothing about weapons. I had no idea there were different kinds of swords until someone read one of my stories and asked me exactly what kind of sword I was describing.

You may not go into a detailed description of your weapon of choice, but it’s still a good idea to know the facts, even if you won’t be using all of them. This doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with actual weapons, or even invent your own, only that you don’t want to turn your reader away by an obvious mis-use.

Search engines on the internet provide easy access to tons of information on swords. However, doing a blanket search will give you so many options it’ll make your head spin. If you go to and search ‘types of swords’ you’ll find a list of swords from various countries that you can read about and then do further research if they interest you. I don’t recommend relying on a single source for information.

This can also be helpful if you intend to create your own sword but aren’t exactly sure where to begin. Looking at pictures and reading descriptions of real swords could give you that spark you need to create your own. This is true of any sort of weapon you could think to use.

Once, I was writing a story and I wanted my character to use a double bladed dagger. I didn’t know what a double bladed dagger was, I just thought it sounded good. Once I looked it up I realized it was not at all what I had in mind, but I did find a double edged dagger, which looked exactly as I’d pictured in my mind. If I had used the double bladed dagger as I intended, with the description I had in mind, it wouldn’t have made sense to anyone who knew what a double bladed dagger was.

When it comes down to the more fantastical parts of your story, such as mythical beasts, it can sometimes be harder to know when to hold true to legends and when to alter them to fit your story. I once had a story rejected because my black dragon breathed fire. Yet, I’ve since read a published novel in which all of the authors dragons breathed fire, regardless of color. Sometimes it just comes down to an editor’s preference and there’s nothing you can do about that.

When it comes to well known mythical creatures, such as dragons, it’s best to know what’s commonly conceived as correct before you try to alter things to your own liking. But don’t be afraid to get creative, after all these are not real animals you’re dealing with, so there is much more leeway for changes.

I chose to change my black dragon into a red dragon, which traditionally breathes fire. It wasn’t a story changing move and it didn’t damage anything I was trying to say. I’ve since had that story published. But no matter what, your story is yours. If an editor makes a suggested change, think it about it hard before you make a decision and if you can’t live with the change, don’t make it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dialogue: How True To Life Should It Be?

This is my third article published by Kalkion in 2009.

Some writers can construct their character’s dialogue with ease, while others may find it more difficult. The question of how similar to real speech your dialogue should be is an important one.When writing dialogue in a fiction story you can’t duplicate human speech as it really is, otherwise your story would be loaded down with umm’s, ahh’s, pauses, and pointless chit chat.

It’s important that every line of dialogue move the story forward. Your character’s conversations with each other should serve to show your reader more about them, their relationship to each other, and the situation they’re in.

This is not to say your characters should never engage in day to day type conversations, but only that such conversation should have a purpose, not be there simply to boost your word count or to fill in empty spaces between the more important scenes of your story.

Another thing to avoid is having your characters constantly address the person they are speaking to by name.

“Hi Bill, how are you today?”

“Just fine Mary, and how are you?”

“Why, I’m just fine too, Bill.”

This will soon grow tedious. Your characters’s manner of speech and the words they use should be enough to tell your reader who is speaking.

But avoid the dreaded talking head syndrome:

“Hi, how are you today?"

“Fine and how are you?”

“Why, I’m fine too.”

It’s good to throw in a few he said/she said’s or even Bill said/Mary said, but the latter is best used at the beginning of the conversation or if more than two people are speaking. Another way to avoid constantly using he said/she said is to throw in the occasional descriptive passage or some sort action for your character.

“Hi Bill, how have you been?” Mary asked.

“Just fine, and how are you?”

“I’m fine.” She avoided his eyes as she spoke, afraid he would read the truth there.

These lines flow more naturally, they sound like normal speech. They also convey a little information about our characters. By focusing on Mary’s thoughts, we show she is the viewpoint character. We see that Bill and Mary know each other but haven’t been in contact in a while. Mary is hiding some secret and Bill must know her pretty well if she’s afraid he can tell she’s lying so easily.

Three simple lines of dialogue, yet they suggest a whole world of possibilities for these two characters. Are they estranged friends or former lovers? Do they still have feelings for each other? Did Mary seek him out or is this a chance encounter? What secret is Mary trying to hide?

Dialogue should always stand equal in importance with description and action. Much can be taken from the words your characters speak and the truth, or lack thereof, behind these words