Wednesday, August 27, 2008

BROKEN ANGEL - Day 3, CSFF Blog Tour

Just finished reading the book, and--overall--I like it.

I might understand a little of what Mr. Brouwer must be feeling in the duration of this blog tour. His work is being analyzed, picked apart, praised or pummeled, and there's nothing he can do about it. He's like a parent who must stand afar while his child walks among strangers who may or may not accept such a creature into their midst.

As a writer who has endured my share of critiques that are more critical than helpful, I cringe inside when asked to critique someone else's work, even when it's work I like. Critiques are good--even the ones that come from hostility or envy or dislike--because they can help us sensitive creative types develop the necessary ability to set feelings and defensiveness aside and look at our work with objectivity.

(It's that skill, as well as the ability to inhabit someone else's story, that makes one a good editor.)

On the other hand, it's really cool when someone says something good about our work, the result of all our effort, blood, and ink.

So, here goes. My favorite part of Broken Angel is the scene where (spoiler alert!) Caitlyn's wings break through the skin of her back. In one respect, not much happens--she's trying to escape a baddie named Mason Lee, and the wings thing occurs at a tense point in the chase, and the chase is the story.

But, on the other hand, everything happens.

The ending scene with Jordan and Caitlyn, the damaged father-daughter relationship, that's real. It's fiction, but it's real.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

BROKEN ANGEL - Day 2, CSFF Blog Tour

Okay. Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour, Day Two. Many pages later than Day One. How's the story now?

Still pretty good.

The title and the first chapter give away the biggest secret, so I'm not reading to find out what that is.What keeps the suspense heightened is the chase itself, all the people running across the countryside, either trying to catch one girl or trying to protect her from the guys who are trying to catch her.

Got it?

But it's not all fun and games, as some of you who read my previous post might know. There are some issues author Sigmund Brouwer brings up that not just scary futuristic possibilities, but are current to our time.

Rebecca Luella Miller wrote this:

This is a story non-Christians could also enjoy, but I think someone who does not have faith in Christ might come to some erroneous conclusions about Christianity and the Church.

I commented:

Truth / fact may be clear, but one’s interpretation of the facts may be skewed. Doesn’t mean the truth shouldn’t be told or confronted. Sticky subject.

In this case, the truth we are discussing concerns issues inside the Church that are not so pleasant to admit exist: selfishness, greed, lust for power and control, and more.

Some reviewers see the book as a slam on the Catholic church, others as a thin veil for the author's Protestant Evangelical opinions (but any fiction author who claims to not present his views in some fashion in his work is lying).

What I see is a piece of fiction that turns a spotlight on the Church--as she has been, as she is now, as she may become in the future--and this doesn't make everyone happy. It's putting dirty laundry out for the world to see, and it ain't comfortable.

Tomorrow, I intend to dwell less on the church-y issues, and more on the story itself, and the writing, because--hopefully--I will have finished reading the book.

For other views, visit the following blogs:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Mark Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Sean Slagle
James Somers
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams

Monday, August 25, 2008

BROKEN ANGEL - Day 1, CSFF Blog Tour

A science fiction novel set in the not-too-distant future but with ideas reaching centuries into
the past, Broken Angel by Christian author Sigmund Brouwer is the featured book for the August Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour.

I received my copy later than anticipated (had to order it online), and am still only about a third of the way through the book, but so far, so good.

Brouwer doesn't waste the reader's time. The prologue is intriguing, and though there is some background information in the first chapter, not many words are expended on the setup. The reader joins the main character and her father just before the chase begins, and the story hits the ground running.

The setting is Appalachia, now a separate entity from the rest of the United States and all of the Outside, and is overseen by Bar Elohim (translated, Son of God). However, any notion of this being a desirable state of affairs is quickly dispelled: this theocracy is anything but kind. Nor is it truly a theocracy, not being governed by God and His truth, but by men bent on keeping the populace subdued by twisted fundamentalist teaching, illiteracy, and harsh punishment.

The people are not allowed to read anything, especially the Bible, and even the clerics are only allowed audio versions from which to preach Bar Elohim's truncated selection of truth.

This brings to mind the centuries when only priests had access to the complete scriptures, and could tell the congregations whatever they wished, because the people could not read the truth for themselves. If they tried to do so and disagreed with the accepted teaching, or if they were caught translating the Bible from Latin and distributing it in the common tongue, imprisonment, torture, and death were the results.

As for the twisted fundamentalism, well,  fundamentalism is really the wrong word, since fundamental means foundational, basic, necessary, and so-called fundamentalists who take their religion to extremes have usually added something to it, or removed something from it. But the twistedness can be found in various segments of religious culture, from Christianity to Islam to Eastern cults. No matter how high-minded and noble-sounding a religion's statement of faith, there are adherents who will use those tenets to control other people. (And, if that is the case, this question remains: Are they truly adherents?)

Broken Angel is fast-paced and the writing unencumbered. I look forward to reading the rest of the story, and learning how Brouwer handles these timely and unpleasant issues.

Meanwhile, take a look at other postings about the novel at these blogs:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Late Summer Poem


Metal tangs dusty air,
and devils dance—
lightning threads fire in the west.

Green sky looms,
thunder threatens—
gorged black clouds oppress the light.

Fire stabs, scattering
the blood of clouds—
fat warm drops blessing my face.

Trees bow before the wind
but I stand, arms outspread,
welcoming the storm.

c. 2006

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Insane Writing Hours, Guns, and Stuff

It's almost 3:30 a.m. on a work night / work morning, and I'm mucking about with the third episode of Thieves' Honor, still not happy with the results. (See sidebar for the original first few episodes of the series, which has now been picked up by Raygun Revival online magazine.)

The beginning and the end were easy to write, but that darn middle, where all the action is, is proving difficult. I feel like a choreographer might, if he (or she) had to move armed pirates around on a small vessel--in this case, a private yacht--that allows little room for actual fighting.

A word about the fighting: guns. And, since this is science fiction set in the sorta distant future, I get to create the names and functions for the weapons. 

Political Incorrectness Alert! This past weekend, I told Dad I was fortunate to have grown up with guns in the house. I think that startled and scandalized his wife, but it's the truth. I watched Dad and uncles and family friends clean weapons, break them apart, load them, carry them, use them. I witnessed correct handling and near-death stupidity. I listened to adults talk about guns, tell stories about their favorites, debate various makes and ammunition. 

When I was old enough, I target-shot lightweight stuff, but never owned my own gun or carried a weapon when hunting, though I did accompany my dad sometimes into the woods during deer season. He is nearsighted, and I was a good spotter, often able to see the game before he did.

Anyway, back to the story: There was one specific weapon mentioned in Episode 2--lightweight cannon on small law-enforcement vessels--but, in this episode, I'm introducing several more makes and styles. However, along with the logistics of moving pirates around on a yacht, there is the problem of discussing weapons without weighing down the story with unnecessary details. Does it really matter what the name is on the gun?

And yet, for the sake of verisimilitude, I feel compelled to insert the brand names into the action: The brawny bad guy carries a Ginchon-make shotgun; the nerdy engineer prefers a Tattersall's Special in his shoulder holster; a henchman hefts a Pike's pistol a/k/a hand cannon; a trio of "good pirates" like the Cavanaugh Cutlass, "the Mariner's Choice", in either handgun or rifle form. See what I mean? A person could get lost among all those guns.

The end is probably the best part of the episode, and is the first place the title of the series comes into play. Episode 3 won't be published for a couple more months, though, so you'll just have to wait till then to find out what's so special about it. (So there.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Return

Today, I go back to work after two blissful weeks of writing and reading and setting my own schedule, or having no schedule at all.

I could sleep or not sleep, eat or not eat, leave the house or live the hermit lifestyle which seems to fit me so well.

In about an hour, though, that all ends. I have to slog out there into the great wide world and be a grownup again, and I ain't happy about it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Maybe I Just Need to Grow Up

I tried. I really tried.

The writing is decent, and the world of the story is credible and well-presented, but I. Just. Can't. Go. On.

This morning, I pulled the bookmark out of Across the Face of the World by Russell Kirkpatrick. When that happens to a book I've not finished reading, the bookmark rarely goes back in.

I found the book at a bookstore in the mall where I was running an errand for work: picking up a ginormous cookie cake at the Chocolate Chip Cookie Company on behalf of a volunteer who worked his butt off for us all summer.

I went in to the store knowing what I was looking for--either The Born Queen by Greg Keyes or The High King's Tomb by Kristen Britain--but found neither. Instead, the cool cover art and the thickness of the paperback drew my attention to Across the Face of the World. After all, if I'm going to spend the money, I want a decent amount of story for the buck. And I was already in the mind for fantasy/adventure.

Just look at it. Who wouldn't want to read a story with a scene like that?

It had an interesting and Tolkienesque premise, there were maps (I like maps), and a cool glossary of ancient terms and names listed in the back of the book, so I lifted it from its place, sandwiched between blander--and smaller--volumes, and felt like I was rescuing a deserving story from its prison of a dark bottom shelf.

First problem? A head-hopping third-person omniscient POV: the so-called God's-eye point of view. Readers of this blog know my opinions on POV, so I shall not reiterate them here. Some writers can make me overlook the POV; some cannot.

Second problem? Much as I wanted to like this story--I gave it 200 pages--it bored me. And there are nearly 500 more pages still unread.

If someone else has read this book, or the others in the series, please let me know if I should suck it up and persevere, or just let it go. Kirkpatrick put his time, sweat, and inkpen into this project, not to mention his cartographic skills. I'd like to know they yielded something more interesting than a detailed description of a journey across a fictional landscape.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gentlemen's Blood

For history buffs, fencing enthusiasts, or just your average reader who enjoys an entertaining and intelligent book, there's Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling, From Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk by Barbara Holland (Bloomsbury, 2003).

Great fun, interesting information, and excellent writing.

Included are letters written back and forth between duelists, leading up to the actual encounters on the field of honor; codes--actual laws--written to govern proper dueling; and examples from history and even from the modern age i.e. the September 2002 duel between the Peruvian vice president and a Peruvian congressman, pistols on a beach south of Lima.

I'm just beginning the fourth chapter, and enjoying every word.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Weird but Cool News

I'd heard a little bit about this stuff from my brother a while back, but here's a link to an article about the steps toward an actual, true-science, real-world invisibility cloak.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Dark Knight

I just arrived home from watching The Dark Knight, the latest entry in the Batman franchise.

There are reviews all over the internet, so I won't write another. Once I've been able to sit back and absorb the film I've just experienced, perhaps I will add my thoughts on ideas raised in the movie.

Right now, however, I'm amazed, confounded, and floundering for words.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Three Fiction Candidates

I'm considering the next attempt at serial fiction to post on this blog. For the smattering of readers who wander by here on occasion, of which of the following stories would you like to read more?

1) An as-yet-untitled murder mystery set on a space station:
“Advocate Temm. ISC Wyoming in two minutes.”

I close the antique book and stow it in my duffle bag, between a fresh folded tunic and a slim battered box monogrammed AMT.

Standing, I zip my flight jacket, sling the duffle over my shoulder, and climb the short ladder leading from the passenger cabin to the forward hatch. Through the porthole gleams the glass-and-metal sphere that is the colony farthest from Earth.
My right hand clenches, the palm clammy. I rub it on my tunic hem.

After a clean blue light scans the transport for toxins or disease, a rigid tentacle reaches from the space station. The terminal tunnel opens as soon as the transport docks; like a giant’s breath, the exchange of air between station and transport ruffles my hair.

I enter the first equalization chamber, and my first step is heavy, awkward, as if I descend a stair but miss the last step. There are a succession of chambers—four, in all—where arriving travelers are acclimated to the difference in pressure between whatever transport they arrived on and the station’s gravity, which is Earth norm.

Earth. The last place I saw Edo.
2) With a working title of Costano, this is "historical fantasy" set in the late Renaissance/early Baroque period:
A colossus bestrode the plaza, muscles gleaming in the sun, one massive fist raised in triumph. In it writhed a great snake whose sinuous body twined the giant’s upraised arm, bound his torso, flicked his leg. The giant laughed, eyes alight, and gripped in his other hand a dagger, forever poised to strike.

Dropping a coin into the baker’s palm, Alessandro did not take his gaze from the frenetic mass. The sculptor had made stone live, and the shock of it gripped Alessandro’s throat.

The baker chuckled. “You like our little decoration?”

“It moves!”

“Yes. Sometimes, I swear, it breathes.”

“Whose is it?”

“Ours, of course!”

“No—who carved it?”

The baker’s voice sharpened. “Where does your ship hail from?”

“South. On the western tip of the Talin’A Penninsula.”

“Even there you must have heard of the Academ di Archim├ędi.”

So he had, but no student made this.

“The final finished work of Archim├ędi de Pontus Piero, founder of the academ.” The baker’s voice swelled. “ He was very old, and ill, and his students begged to finish it for him, but Seyor Piero refused. Some nights near the end, he had torches set around the plaza—he carved here, you know—and polished the sandals and the feet. See how even the blades of grass shine? Then, when the sun rose one day, he lay right there. Dead.” The man sighed. “They are already telling stories. Some say Seyor Piero’s tools disappeared with his life, and that his spirit waits to give them to the next great artist. “ He shook his head. “Foolish talk.”
3) This fantasy bears the working title of Goblin:
Goblin dragged his arm across his forehead; his sleeve came away wet, and he squinted into the sky. No clouds. No birds. Only the sun's searing heat. Yet fires must be tended, even on a day like this.

He could hear the sea rolling up onto the rocks below Thora Keep. From the battlements, he would be able to feel the cooling breeze off the water, but down in the bailey, the walls prevented the wind and trapped the sun.

The earl forbade him go outside the walls. Goblin did not resent the restriction—Lord Clement was a kind master—but he dreamed of walking on the seashore and feeling sand beneath his feet. Was it muddy? Did it grate like crushed stones? He wanted to venture into the forest and stand under the green. How did sunlight appear, shining through all those leaves and branches?

He wanted to do many things, but he was only a misshapen little gnome, a goblin, whose twisted body would never allow such adventures. His left shoulder hunched, higher than the right, and one leg always dragged a little behind when he walked. His mouth drew up at the left corner, and one hand curled into a perpetual fist. His was not the most noble figure in the province.

Nor the most able. This morning, he had dropped the wood for the earl's fire. The entire load bounded down the stairs and hit Warren the steward in the knees, rolling him to the bottom where he landed on the heaped wood like a corpse on a funeral pyre. Warren struggled to his feet and straightened his robes. Scowling and grabbing up his cane, the man blustered and fumed, threatening to go to the earl about this. Goblin kept his head down during the tirade. Silence sometimes means short scoldings.

All work the property of Keanan Brand, and may not be used without express permission.

Writing Update

Sunday afternoon, I submitted Episode 1 of Thieves' Honor (formerly Space Pirates, see sidebar) to Raygun Revival as a possible upcoming science fiction serial.

I'm considering another run of episodic fiction here on the blog, either another science fiction piece, a fantasy, or maybe even a historical. Not sure yet.

This morning, at some crazy time when most sane people have been asleep for hours, I finished the latest edits on Dragon's Rook (138,000+ words) and sent the monster of a manuscript off to Philip Martin for a read. Check out his stuff at The Writer's Handbook blog or at Great Lakes Literary.

I think I may take today off from further writing, and reward myself with a movie. Iron Man is playing at the second-run theatre in the city where I work, only $2 for a matinee, but then there's The Dark Knight, Wanted, The Mummy, WALL-E, and Hellboy II, all playing at the regular-price cinema.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I posted a relative's unintentionally funny remark the other day, and it reminded me of a couple of stories Mom dredged up from family history. They might be humorous only in context, but then you might recognize similar characters in your own family.

1) First, to understand what happens next, you must know that my paternal grandmother fed everyone who walked in the door, whether they wanted food or not, and she met protests to the contrary with cups of coffee, plates of biscuits, bowls of cornbread and milk.

I was still an infant, and Mom was fasting one day, and praying. For some reason, she and I had to go to her in-laws' house, where they were just sitting down to breakfast.

Grandma - "Are you hungry?"

Mom - "I'm fasting today, and praying."

Grandma - (puts an empty plate in front of her) "Just in case."

2) Mom's grandmother was a lot like Mom's mother-in-law, but smaller. 

In this corner: Great-Grandma J, 4'11" or thereabouts, a frail little woman from Sweden. 

In that corner: Bill, a crusty old cowboy who had been like my dad's foster father, and a harder-headed individual would be difficult to find.

GG J - "Hungry?"

Bill - "No, thanks."

GG J - (pointing imperiously) "Shut 'er up and eat."

He ate.

It was the only time any of us had ever seen him cowed by a female, let alone a miniature septuagenarian. 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Family Funny

Went to a family reunion today, and saw folks I haven't seen in years. I thought I'd only stay till noon; I left at 9:00 p.m., much later than I wanted to be making the drive home. It was a great time, and I'm glad I didn't let a two-day migraine stop me from attending.

My aunt was there, and told me about another branch of the family that has its reunions in a small town nearer my home. "They're related to us through your grandpa's cousin. Did you even know your great-grandfather had a brother? We never heard about him until last year. The family welcomed us as if we'd known each other all our lives. I think they meet in September," and more chatter in that vein.

And then she said something that was so typically my aunt that I laughed loud enough to make people across the room crane their necks: "They're Baptists, but they're good people."

When I related the conversation over the phone to Mom tonight, she laughed, too. "That's (EmmaJo). She puts her foot in her mouth so often that she walks with a limp."

Yeah, but she's good people.