At the Mirror: Stranger in a Strange Land

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Marietta Rodgers has a funny, quirky, oft times political blog:
The Mordant Scribe.
This piece of writing is plain and simple fun, and not what you think.
If you need a laugh, read on.
Comments are closed here. Click on over and enjoy.

Stranger in a Strange Land

by Marietta Rodgers

“You’re here,” I say, a bit frazzled because I had not finished dusting my collection of  Gothic ashtrays.

“Yes, I realize I’m a bit early,” the stranger says uneasily. “I’m a little nervous; I haven’t done this in a long time.

“Well, I’ve never done this before. Do you want to do it right here on the table,” I ask, pointing to my kitchen table with a rotting fruit bowl as its centerpiece.

“Anywhere is fine,” he says, looking down at his feet embarrassed.

I nod and make my way to the hall closet. Immediately when I open the door, a broom falls out and the handle hits me square in the forehead with an audible, whack.  I shove the broom into the very back of the closet so it won’t assault me the next time I open it. A lone Members Only Jacket is hanging up, just hoping and waiting for the day that epaulets are in vogue again. My eyes scan the contents on the shelf. I see the box that I want underneath an old blanket. As I make my way back to the table, with the box in hand, I hear my tea kettle singing.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I was going to make myself a cup of tea.”

“I’ll have one as well.” I sit the box on the table and empty the contents of the fruit bowl, where I notice several fruit flies had died.

The stranger adds a little milk to his tea. The milk was already expired by at least three days; I had forgotten to dump it out. I debate on whether I should tell him or not. I finally decide that I will not.

Mom always said to check the date on the milkShe probably meant before you buy it though, not if you’re at a random stranger’s house.  

I pour my tea and politely refuse the three-day-old milk, when the stranger offers it. Instead, I open my cookie jar and take out a flask containing whiskey and pour a little into my cup.  I don’t like how the stranger is judging me with his eyes…

(continue reading: Stranger in a Strange Land)

Author Interview: D Wallace Peach

Over my break, I answered a few questions about The Rose Shield series for Kathy Wagoner’s blog. Kathy’s another speculative fiction writer. If you have the time, stop by to say hi and check out her blog. And have a wonderful weekend!

KL Wagoner

Author D. Wallace Peach infuses her speculative fiction with vivid prose and intriguing plots. Her twelve published books are divided between two four-book series and four standalone novels. Kari’s Reckoning (2017) is the fourth and final novel in her Rose Shield series, a storyline that explores flawed and compelling characters, a sentient landscape, and a magic system that allows for manipulating emotions. Learn more about Diana and her writing on her website/blog MythsOfTheMirror.com and her Amazon author page, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@dwallacepeach), and Goodreads.


What was the initial spark for the Rose Shield seriesa character, the setting, a what-if question?
For any of my books, my initial spark is usually something related to a magic system. I’m a fan of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson and enjoy the structure he brings to the magic in his books, including how he integrates his…

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The HeArt and Craft of Writing

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My blogger friend Sean Carlin wrote a post a few days ago about Artistic Originality. He’s a writer with a background in film, and he often laments the industry’s sequels and reboots that sacrifice the original film’s creative power for a guaranteed (but unsatisfying to the viewer) box-office bump.

His post got me thinking about the same phenomenon in books and what makes a story original.  We may disagree on the number of plots available to us, ranging from 4 (man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, man vs. himself) to Polti’s 36 (here’s the list). But we can all agree that the number we have to work with is limited.

Since we’re essentially rehashing the same plots millions of time (sit with that thought for a minute) how is it that we aren’t bored to tears with writing and reading? Aren’t we all, in a way, regurgitating our favorites?

Sean Carlin

Carlin concludes his post with a reflection on his current writing endeavor Escape from Rikers Island, and to me, he defines what makes a piece of art original:

“For better or worse, it is a reflection of my personality, my interests, my sensibilities, my experiences. When I read it back, I …hear myself. It sounds like me.”

In lauding George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy, Carlin writes:

“… he diversified his influences, internalized them, developed an authentic voice all his own, and—this part is key—summoned the courage, without any assurances of a receptive audience, to make it heard.  If all artists took inspiration from that and aspired to the same, our popular culture would yield a limitless bounty of originality.”

I find these conclusions both wonderful and daunting because they place originality in a realm where we, as artists, have full control—our individual collections of experiences, imaginings, and most important of all, our hearts.

My reflection on Carlin’s post led to the core of what makes a piece of art compelling and memorable to me, which is the artist’s internal investment, the deeper the better. In writing, it’s an author’s emotional soul that feeds a story and evokes a reaction. That personal vulnerability requires courage, but it’s worth it because readers perceive the authenticity of the human experience unfolding in the books they love.

The blogosphere is full of spectacular advice on the “craft” of writing, but not so much on the “art.” Because heArt is like a fingerprint—personal and one of a kind. It isn’t something taught, but a rich quality mined from a soulful place within us. You are sublimely unique, and therein lies your source of originality.

Carlin wrote in his comment to me:

“…tools, techniques, and even theory are cool, but they’re only there to help us create an authentic emotional experience, and we can’t do that unless we write honest stories, drawn from our own experiences, imparted with a piece of our souls … I think that goes to illustrate just how sensitive storytelling is—what a delicate balance between heart and craft we have to strike in order to get it right.”

I love that.

Happy Writing. ❤

Writing Teenage Boys: Guest Post with Teri Polen

I’m not much of a horror reader since Dean Koontz scared the bejeezus out of me as a teenager. I’m also not a huge fan of teenagers. The real ones are tolerable, but the ones in books sometimes drive me crazy. They’re angsty,  dramatic, and they make dumb decisions. They remind me of me at that age.

So… when I picked up Teri Polen’s YA horror novel, Sarah, I was worried.

Well, silly me for fretting. The book was awesome. I’ll give you my review below, but first, I had to quiz Teri. One of the best things about the book was the way she dove into the experience of Cain, a 17-yr-old teenage boy. It felt totally genuine to me, and I happen to know Teri isn’t a 17-yr-old teenage boy. How did she do that with such authenticity? How did she prepare? Here’s her answer:

***

You’re not the first person to ask how I channeled the voices of 17-year-old boys, Diana. A good friend is convinced I was a teenage boy in a previous life. I have two sons—I honestly don’t know what I would have done with girls—and we’ve always had a steady stream of their friends hanging out at our house.

I spent countless hours driving them to sports and band practices, sleepovers, movies, dances…you get the picture. They trash talked each other while playing video games, compared puzzling encounters with the female species, and debated superhero movies. I’ve witnessed their heartache after breakups, their bets on when a friend would get dumped by a new girlfriend—and if it would be by text or in person, and their vehement defense of each other when challenged.

All the while, I listened. And it’s mostly been quite entertaining and enlightening. When the characters in my head demanded their story be told, it was natural they’d be teenage boys, because that’s what I know.

Cain’s pigsty of a bedroom is a near perfect picture of my oldest son’s room—or as my younger son calls it, ‘The Black Hole’. Things have literally disappeared in there, and the smells emanating from that room have been horrific at times. If a zombie apocalypse happened today, we could live on the half-empty Gatorade and water bottles, snack bags, and protein bars for quite a while.

My sons and their friends probably never dreamed some of their comments would come back to ‘haunt’ them in a YA horror novel. You never know who’s listening.

***

My Review: 

Sarah is categorized as YA horror and the book fits the genre perfectly. Sarah is a teenage ghost seeking revenge for her murder. She returns to the scene of the crime, now the home of Cain Shannon, a 17-year-old horror fan. At first, she appears shy and vulnerable, and Cain agrees to help her, but she’s not as helpless as he believes. With each bloody act of revenge, she grows in power, and her tactics increase in brutality. Before long, Cain is in the battle of his life against a ghost intent on death.

This book has some really creepy, icky, suspenseful, and scary things going on, but the scare-factor and gore feel appropriate for YA readers (as well as adults). The story grabbed my attention from the first page, and the tension and suspense escalate at a steady pace without much of a break right up to the climatic end. Even the last few paragraphs of the epilog are worthy of a few terrifying chills.

Though the horror aspects of the book were engaging, what impressed me the most was Polen’s outstanding characters. All of them felt well-rounded to me with fully developed personalities, but I was totally taken with the main character Cain and his friend Finn. They felt authentic to me in their thoughts, emotions, dialog, banter, friendship, and relationships with others. I’m in awe of the author’s ability to capture the essence of teenage boys with such expertise. I found the pair of them refreshing and likable, and therefore enjoyed the non-horror moments of the book as much as the horror, if not more so.

Another thing that impressed me was the believability of the characters’ choices. I often find that characters in horror (movies) make stupid choices because the plot would keel over and die if they acted sensibly. Polen was meticulous in building a backstory that supported Cain’s decisions, particularly his choice not to involve his mother and to stay in the house despite the presence of a murderous ghost. This careful attention to character and plot kept me enmeshed in the story from chapter one right through to the end.

An excellent book for both YA and adult readers of horror and suspense.

***

Eh, what’s one more book in your TBR pile? Here’s a link: Sarah

Connect with Teri on her book review blog: Books and Such

A Human Story: Guest Post with Andrea Flory

After reading Andrea Flory’s book Miira (Innerscape: book 1) , I asked her if she’d be interested in a guest post. I expected a cerebral exposition of the fascinating science of virtual reality. What I got was so much more, a sharing of the true beauty of her work, a human story. My review is below, but before heading there, here’s Andrea:

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Andrea Flory

Some people know they want to write from a very young age. It’s all they dream about.

That was never me. I did spend a lot of my childhood daydreaming, but those were private adventures, and I never saw them as potential ‘books’. Books were magical portals created by geniuses with towering imaginations.

How could I ever aspire to write stories?

It was true that I liked words and was good with them, but I was too pragmatic, and much too logical to ever emulate gods like Dostoyevsky and Dumas, LeGuin and Herbert. No, daydreams were for that magical time between waking and sleeping. They were most definitely not suitable for the real world.

And besides, I was busy. I rode motorbikes and  went up in gliders, travelled overseas, learned more languages, taught high school French, fell in love with computers, got married, had a child. You know…life.

But neglected passions don’t always wither away, and one day while I was doing tech support, I realised that many of my clients were asking the exact same questions, over and over again.

Ah hah, thought I. I liked writing, and I’d been a teacher, why not combine the two and type up the tech support instead of re-inventing the wheel each time? And that was the start of my technical writing career, but it would still be another ten years before I was brave enough to give fiction a try.

I guess that lack of courage is something I share with Miira, the protagonist in my latest science fiction story. She’s not a coward, exactly, but she’s not brave either, and it’s not until she’s bed-ridden and almost completely helpless that she finally decides to take the plunge and enter the digital world of Innerscape.

At first, Miira only sees Innerscape as a pain free way to die. Once inside, however, she discovers that her healthy young body and the virtual world it inhabits really are indistinguishable from the real thing. But if she has been given this second chance at life, what on earth is she to do with it?

I think this is a question we all have to answer at some point in our lives. For me, the moment came after a brush with cancer some years ago. Until then, I’d felt no sense of urgency; I was learning to write the kind of fiction I loved to read. What was the rush? Besides, I still wasn’t sure my writing would ever be good enough…

After the cancer scare I realised that writing wasn’t a competition. I might never be as good as my heroes, but my best was good enough. For me. The only question that still remained was whether I had the courage to share my best with others.

In 2013 I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and jumped. Four years later, so did Miira Tahn.

My Review

What a beautifully written book. Innerscape is a science fiction story about a middle-aged woman Miira whose disease-ravaged body is dying. She decides to enter Innercape where her body will be pared down to her essential components and preserved while she lives out her life in a virtual world as a younger, healthy version of herself.

The first book in the series covers two aspects of her immersion in Innerscape – first, the preparation of her new body and the tests to prepare for her transition, and second, the transition into the VR world and her orientation. As a series, the story continues beyond the initial book, and Flory hooks the reader with the introduction of several challenging characters, corporate compromises, questionable ethics, and love.

The science is detailed and utterly entrancing, as well as completely understandable to the layperson. The premise and technology also seem entirely plausible, if not now, then in the not-so-distant future. Flory’s writing is meticulous and detailed, and the world she’s created held my fascination throughout.

And all that wasn’t even the best part! Set against the scientific backdrop, is an engrossing human story. Miira is reserved, sensitive, inquisitive, and vulnerable, a beautifully rendered human being undergoing a process that requires complete trust and a step into the unknown. The story is told primarily in her point of view and the immersion in her experience is complete. The Innerscape staff that supports her are multidimensional and believably flawed characters.

The pace is steady and yet I flew through the book because I could NOT put it down. Exquisite writing, gorgeous descriptions, high tech science, and human pathos that grab the reader. I’m a fan and gladly recommend this book to readers of science fiction and anyone who enjoys an unusual human story.

***

If we’ve enticed you to enter the fascinating world of Innerscape and meet Miira, here’s the global link to her story: Miira, Innerscape: book 1

Soul Swallowers: Danzell and Johzar

As my current WIP sloooowly progresses, I thought I would offer a peek into some of the characters.

You might have met the main character Raze here.

Danzell is a soul-collector, one who swallows multiple souls. In her case, wise ones.
Johzar is a slaver of questionable morals and allegiances.

I hope you enjoy this snippet.

***

The glowing soul rolled in Danzell’s palm, and she tilted her head. If only she could pry into the sphere, truly know the person bound within, their succulent secrets, forbidden dreams, and ripe desires. The wise of the world weren’t without their idiosyncrasies, the blades of madness that cleaved the mundane to unleash visionary brilliance.

Johzar watched her, a pendant on the Temple’s table between them, the one she’d given him as a gift. The soulstone still shone with the light of the soul within, her gift thus far rejected. Was he a fool or a wise man? She remained undecided, wary.

The Temple was her haven for the moment. She and the slaver sat by the window on the eighth level, too high for the common wanderer, and she kept her cowl up, face in shadow to all but him. “Why are you here, Johzar? Why the interest in imperial affairs? Why now? Why accompany me like my guard dog? What do you know? What do you want?”

He mulled over her questions, the gears grinding in his head as if visible to her eyes. Did he invent excuses or parse through her questions for the ones he’d answer?

“Curiosity.”

“And?”

Another pause. “Boredom.”

“Aah.” She chuckled and dropped a hand to her lap, fingers tickling the hilt of her knife. “And profit? Are you for sale?”

“Now and then.”

“Now?”

He shook his head. “I’ll stick with curious.”

“Did you or someone from your crew kill my sister?” She wrapped her hand around the hilt of her dagger.

“Nae.”

“Do you know who did?”

His gaze pointed to her hip as if the table were transparent. “I may not tell you if I did, but my answer is nae.”

“Did you betray my friends to the soldiers?”

“I saved their lives and mine by turning over the girl. She’s Benjmur’s weakness, and he’ll protect her. I’m sure of it.”

Danzell sighed. “I should have killed them all in the catacombs and added their bones to the vaults. They’ve complicated my plans.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“The voices in my head.” She smiled and rolled the soul.

He slid the pendant toward her. “I gift this back to you. I don’t need to listen to a voice inside my head tell me what I already know.”

“Such arrogance from a slaver, Johzar. Do you claim to possess the wisdom of the ancients?”

“Far from it.” He leaned back and crossed his arms. “But I know myself, and I know what I need to do.”

“Hm.” She draped the pendant around her neck, eyes returning again to the pearl of light in her palm. Her hesitation surprised her, the sensation new. Had she reached her limit? Was she edging toward the brink of madness from which she couldn’t return?

She hadn’t suffered conflicting opinions in her head until recent events required choices for which the outcomes were unclear. When it was all passive speculation, the answers were easy, reflecting a hypothetical black and white world without a broad palette of grays. Taking action was much more nuanced.

She popped the sphere into her mouth and swallowed. Johzar leaned forward, studying her. Her eyes closed, she surrendered to the sensation radiating from her stomach. The heat streamed through her veins, tingling her fingers and toes, and rushed into her head in a dizzying wave. She envisioned a room full of chattering, the newcomer mingling, ideas bouncing off others, temperaments clashing and merging. Similarities and differences flailed about with practiced words. She’d thrown another stone in the pond, created a chaos of ripples. She breathed through it, seeking the inevitable peace as the waters stilled.

Worldbuilding Part 4

Back in December, I finished up a world-building series at The Story Reading Ape. Then the holidays invaded and things got a little crazy! I’m delighted to finally share Part 4 here. I hope you enjoy. Happy Writing!

***

Many thanks to Chris for letting me chat about world-building. It’s been a pleasure to hang out, and in this final post of the series, I want to share thought-starters for each of the major systems that make up a world.

Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, in a discussion about world-building, stated that writers don’t need to completely change every major system in a world. Pick a few big elements that are linked to the plot and then dabble with the details on the rest. Let your imagination run wild.

The Environment

Whether designing a natural or human-made world, give it personality – strengths, weaknesses and quirks, and a complex diversity of elements that both support and sabotage the characters’ efforts. Don’t forget to account for food, water, air, and shelter, and to employ all the senses in descriptions. Think outside the box. You may have longer or shorter days, worlds without seasons, animals or plants capable of communicating, a parallel spirit realm. Your world may exist only in dreams.

Create a map, for your reference, at least. Maps physically “ground” the world by establishing terrains, distances, and regional resources, locating population centers and geopolitical borders. Not building a planet? Map your city or space station.

History

If you look at our current “real” world, ancient history still has a huge impact on identity and choices. Robert Jordan went back about 3000 years in his world-building – a long time, I know. But going back 300 to 1000 years isn’t uncommon, particularly if there’s been ongoing tension between groups or a common past that has splintered.

Create a time line. In the distant past, simply outline major events. As the timeline moves closer to the present story, increase the level of detail and shorten the gaps. Consequential events may occur daily in the last months or weeks before your book actually begins.

Government

Even a gang has a government. Someone is calling the shots….

Continue Reading:  World-building: Thought Starters – Guest Post by Diana Peach…