Monday, August 22, 2011


Heeeeeerrrrrre's Wanda! She's my new car, a little Kia Soul that's more fun to drive than I expected, but I still miss my old red truck.

The car's called Wanda thanks to my mother, who imitated the sound it made when I had to slow down suddenly, and the engine sounded like a toy whose rubberband was unwinding.

Mom also found it quite amusing to remind me that now I have "a tiny black Soul" -- no commentary, please, on my spiritual condition. ;)

However, the Soul does look quite dark, due to its portrait being taken at twilight, just before the family took a walk around my brother and sister-in-law's neighborhood.

I was playing with the settings on my camera, seeing which ones yielded the best shots in the low light, and this picture is an early endeavor, before I got the settings right.

Residential Aliens Blog Tour

I've been out of the loop in the last few months of the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour, but I'm gonna promote the August tour for speculative fiction magazine Residential Aliens even if I'm not participating.

And the reason I'm not joining the tour is because I'm a slush reader for that magazine and for its sister publication, horror mag Fear and Trembling, and therefore biased in my views. However, below is a list of participating bloggers whose views might be a bit more balanced:

Noah Arsenault
Brandon Barr
Thomas Clayton Booher
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
CSFF Blog Tour
Carol Bruce Collett
D. G. D. Davidson
Dean Hardy
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Lyn Perry
Sarah Sawyer
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler

And, just for kicks, here are a couple blogs written by Lyn Perry, editor of RA and F&T:
Residential Aliens
Bloggin' Out Loud


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Endings, Again

Near the beginning of the month, I wrote a post about endings -- in real life and in literature -- and included the closing paragraphs of a novel, Dragon's Rook. One of my concerns is the apparent depressing nature of the ending, because a few characters die in a short amount of time, at the end of Part 3 and Part 4, which may concern the readers about what the next book will be like.

My niece recently read the first novel in its entirety; and, like previous readers, she (who picks up on all sorts of nuances) missed what I thought was a glaringly obvious statement in this paragraph describing a king's daughter-turned-warrior and a horse bearing the body of an enemy soldier with whom the king's daughter is now allied:

Captain Gaerbith’s horse pricked his ears and danced sideways, eagerness in every line. Yanámari rose to her feet, hope surging. The horse behaved as if his master lived.
Leaping astride her mount, she grabbed Kraekor’s reins and turned toward the gates.
This is at the end of Part 3 in the manuscript. To me, the "clue" is obvious, but most readers haven't caught it. Perhaps that's because they're focused on the rest of the action. Therefore, "hope surging" and "(t)he horse behaved as if his master lived" are too quiet when compared to the noise of battle.

Talking to Niece #1 about her thoughts on that scene -- by the way, she wanted to immediately read the next book, which is still unfinished --  she said, "Well, he expected to die there, because it fits with the prophecy he was given." True, true. And there will be no fiddling with the prophecy or the circumstances, no telling the reader, "Psych! It was all just a big misunderstanding!" because that would weaken the story, the same way the "it was all just a dream" trick never really works.

Except for individual scenes, such as a character having a vivid dream that seems real, because the jolt factor can keep a story interesting and take it into new territory -- but using a dream as the whole setting for the story? That's a surefire way for me to throw the book across the room and never read anything by that author again.

And it's one reason I'm back-and-forth about whether or not I'll buy the DVDs of the American version of the TV series "Life on Mars" that aired a while back. The show was cancelled, and -- as I understand it -- the writers had to scramble to write a suitable ending for the story. What they created was a version of the "it was all a dream" scenario. It's clever, I'll admit, and it works to tie up loose ends and even makes me chuckle, but it still feels weak somehow, an easy out for all the build-up and suspense.

"Lost" is another show that was a huge let-down for me, with its variation on the dream trick: "we've been dead all along, and now it's time to go toward the light" -- a weak, empty ending that never answered the questions or took responsibility for all the story that had happened up until that point.

So, back to Captain Gaerbith being dead or alive: both are true in that instant, and the prophecy has been fulfilled. Then again, I do have a scene written where it is fulfilled again, but that is for much later in the story.

No great spoiler here: Gaerbith survives Book One, and is a vital part of the next book and what happens with the other male lead, because the two storylines eventually meet and the men join forces to find something ancient that was lost. There will be battles and journeys, and romance, too, because even battle-hardened warriors need love, and there are strong, brave women to stand at their sides. Not all the beloved characters will remain, and there will be sorrow, but hope will very much be present when "The End" is typed at the bottom of the final page. Any grief can be endured, if there is hope.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tropes and Me

Gotta love the internet (or Internet, for those who like their capitalization to be proper). This morning, I did a quick, interesting research session on reforging broken swords, and found just the bit of information necessary for one of my characters to sound like he knew what he was doing.

In the midst of that search, I encountered many references to World of Warcraft and The Lord of the Rings (the shards of Narsil, after all, were reforged by the Elves into Anduril), and was struck by the notion that the use of a broken blade in a fantasy tale might not be a good idea. It's overdone. However, the two broken swords in my novels are not magical or powerful in any way; they are just ordinary weapons damaged in battle. The first almost kills one of the heroes; the second belongs to a man killed while fighting a dragon.

Yet, as I contemplated the possibility of change, I came to the conclusion that -- just because my story has a fantasy trope or three -- I don't have to fall into any ruts or cliches.

A trope is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a word or expression used in a figurative sense" and "a common or overused theme or device" i.e. gunfights in Westerns, love triangles in soap operas, alien invasions in science fiction.

Tropes are tropes for a reason: they generally work. Yeah, we rail against them as being predictable, cliche, too easy, but they are markers, telling us what kind of story we have encountered, what we might expect if we proceed further. On the other hand, if an author knows the tropes of his genre, he can twist the story, surprise the audience, turn the cliche upside down or inside out.

I guess that's one reason I enjoyed the recent SyFy miniseries, Tin Man and Alice: the familiar, beloved The Wizard of Oz (book, movie) and Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass (AiW book, LtLG book, and various movie interpretations) retold in unexpected ways. Although the original stories were present, they did not unfold the way the audience already knew.

There's something to be said for the familiar and predictable: it can be comforting. Young children, for instance, want the story to be told, word for word, the same way every time. They might chastise or correct the adult who tries to skip ahead or change up a tale he or she finds boring.

On the other hand, we grownups have pretty much heard and seen and read it all. We tend to be on the search for something fresh, something that will keep us guessing. Still, we also have certain expectations about what makes up a particular genre -- there's generally a crime committed in a mystery novel, or something futuristic in a science fiction yarn -- and therefore, whether we like 'em or not, there are tropes.

So, alongside dragons and big battles, the broken swords will remain in my novels. They're fantasy, after all. Can't leave the audience always guessing. :) happy

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


"Don’t be daft, lad!...Ye want to leave the village? Then ye end something. Ye want a new life? Kill the old." (Father Donovan, a character in Dragon's Rook by KB)
I've been contemplating endings.

This isn't a recent activity; I've been contemplating endings for a good long while. Over the past few years, I've wanted to end my job, certain relationships, even my writing. There was a time in my youth when I wanted to end my life.

Now I'm facing endings that haven't quite arrived, but whose lanterns are gleaming far down the tracks.

This is the first week of a two-week vacation, but I'm still working, not in the office but around the house, preparing for the realtor's visit on Friday. A "For Sale" sign will be planted in the yard. I will say goodbye to the house my father and I rebuilt together. It has been my haven, my hermit cave, even -- a source of quiet and refuge -- a place I can take a certain pride in, because my sweat and bruised thumbs and broken toes helped turn a rotting old house into a snug, comfortable home.

Family has gathered here. Friends have talked here. Neighbors have stood in the front yard and traded news.

Where will I live when the house sells? I don't know.
Where will family stay when they come to town? I don't know.
Where will I go to rest and write? I don't know.

I've always been a little restless. It comes, I think, not just from my personality but from my father, who moved the family around the country often when I was young. It was a mixed blessing: we met different kinds of people, saw some awesome countryside, but never truly felt at home. Even now, fourteen years after I bought this house, the place I have felt the most "at home", there are cardboard boxes that have never been unpacked, waiting for the next move.

But what does this life moment have to do with writing?

I've been contemplating endings.

My science fiction serial has lost its way -- my fault -- and I'm looking at how to bring it back on track and end it well. A serial is not my usual way of writing, and I'm not quite proud of how it's working out, but it's forcing me to not linger too long, to not polish every word until the story never gets out to the reading world. Many of my missteps might be forgiven if the end is strong. It's already written; the challenge is getting there.

A number of short stories are completed and polished, but unpublished, not due to rejection but due to my own lack of action. A great many more remain unfinished or even unwritten, just existing as notes and scene ideas. In essence, ending before they've begun.

Manuscripts await completion. They pull at me, and I want to follow, because I want to see how the stories end. I want to know who wins, who loses. Does Brygid leave her sword, and does Yasha take it up? Will Gaerbith remain immortal? How does Kieran become king? Will Maggie's hand be restored, or does it remain twisted, her weakness and her strength? Will the endings be worthy of all the pages that came before?

In a recent blog post by Rebecca LuElla Miller at Rewrite, Reword, Rework, she discusses endings:
Endings are in the position to leave the greatest impression. Consequently they should be the strongest part of each story element...Whether tightly wrapped up or somewhat open-ended, stories need to bring their character arcs and plot events to powerful conclusions. Those are the books that stay on shelves and get re-read from time to time. Those are the books that make readers want to buy that author’s next novel.
Just about every writer I know wants their work to be read and re-read. It's like applause for a job well done, even if we never know, never hear that applause.

Becky's post opens with this:
When I finished the last page, I wanted to toss the book as far as I could, as hard as I could. The protagonist who I had followed for the last four hundred pages died without accomplishing his goal. No momentous lesson learned along the way, no great change to complete his character arc. Why, I wondered, had I wasted my days and hours reading about this failed adventure that led nowhere?

That got me to thinking of the first manuscript in my fantasy cycle. It ends in a dark place -- people have died, characters have left their homes, a mission appears to have failed. Despite the "to be continued" notation on the last page, I've often wondered if the hope is overwhelmed by the darkness, to the point that readers will give up on the story. Will they look forward eagerly to what happens next, or will they give up and throw the book across the room?

Honestly, that's the reaction I'm expecting from the publisher currently in possession of that manuscript: "It's too depressing! We can't print this crap."

Here is the end. Or, at least, an ending.

But if you venture beyond it and continue reading, I'd like to know your thoughts on the manuscript excerpt below. Too depressing for the first in a series?

------------------ end of Dragon's Rook by Keanan Brand ------------------

Villagers filed out of the churchyard in silent procession, the women’s heads covered in white kerchiefs. The pallor caught and reflected the last rays of sunlight, pointing the souls toward the Otherland.

Tradition dictated preparing a grief feast and telling stories about the ones just buried, but a sudden awareness had settled over the villagers, as thick as the foul black smoke still rising from the pyre. They would pay dearly for this day.

Meantime, lingering mercenaries boasted their prowess over ale at the Blue Oak. Father Donovan could hear their merriment even in the kirkyard.

Only Mother Crumb and Thryffin remained. The healer seemed suddenly withered, a bit of old root severed from its tree and left to dry above the ground. Her movements were stiff, lacking their accustomed grace, and the lines in her face were chasms to channel her tears.

"How fares Farmer Connor?" asked Father Donovan.

"I fear you will be standing over his grave on the morrow."

"What of Maggie?"

Mother Crumb wiped her eyes with the corner of her apron. "I cannot hear her."

He understood. Her Gift did not sense Maggie’s. For healers connected by their very essence, such a loss was nigh death.

"And Kieran?" As he spoke the smith’s name, Father Donovan saw Thryffin take a step then stand very still. "Does the Gift yet hear him?"

"He is gone north, I think. Perhaps west to the Ruins."

"Did he bid ye farewell?"

Mother Crumb’s glance flicked toward Thryffin, who still listened yet tried to appear as if he did not. "Kieran said nothing to anyone." She reached a hand to the boy, but he stayed where he was. "He did it to keep you safe, lad. He did it for all of us."

Thryffin turned and left the kirkyard. The priest gazed after him, wishing he had wisdom for such times.

Mother Crumb sighed. "Better for him to be with Kieran, safe or no, for now the lad cradles a great hurt. It will fester like a rotten wound."

Aye. Father Donovan knew the bitterness of cherished wrongs held tight for too long. After a silence, he said, "So it begins."

"So it begins."

The healer departed, limping as if her feet could scarce touch the ground without pain. Father Donovan quelled the sudden thought that he might soon be saying the death blessing over her.

He stood beside the new graves, his heart heavy. This day had welcomed the evil from which he so longed to protect the people, yet he could neither prevent nor alter what had been foretold.

            Risá El ethem, Mymna Tor
Risá duru Nar Cahm enkára lenë llumim
            Risá nen, o pyrvië grimladh

In Kelden, the resonating power of the words was lost in the beauty of sound and rhythm. Father Donovan repeated the ancient prayer, this time with the force of common Skardian:

Rescue Your people, Mymna Tor
Rescue from the Dark Enemy seeking our lives
Rescue us, and vanquish evil

Soon Mymna Tor and Nar Cahm would shout at one another, and all the world would hear.

to be continued…