Friday, December 17, 2010

Fiction on the Web: A Few Comics for You

Maybe you've seen the links in the right corner of my screen.  I follow several webcomics on a regular basis, and I'd like to share.  Take a look at these and see if you like them.

RH Junior 
This site is actually seven comics.  The artist is not able to update too frequently, but his stuff is always a treat.  My personal favorite is Tales of the Questor, but Goblin Hollow and QQSR are also quite good.  All the comics are family friendly, so you shouldn't have any problem with a younger member of your family visiting the site.  I'd rate it PG for some action violence in TotQ and QQSR.  Updates are not on a schedule, so check back often.

The Phoenix Requiem
You may have seen Sarah Ellerton elsewhere on the web, and her art is beautiful.  The Phoenix Requiem is set in what seems to be an alternate Edwardian era.  It's actually a graphic novel, and it is beautifully done.  The colors are rich and vibrant, earth tones included, and the story is captivating, if sometimes slow-moving.  The downside is that this comic can get a little gory sometimes, so some caution is best if you have younger children.  I'd rate it PG-13 (as does the artist), mostly for the horror aspect of it (and yes, it does get truly creepy), but also for some partial nudity and implicit sexual content early on in the story.  This one updates on Mondays and Thursdays.

Accursed Dragon!
Accursed Dragon! is meant to be both serious and funny.  My boyfriend compared the humor to that of The Emperor's New Groove (film, not TV show), and he was pretty close with that analysis.  There is little to no language, and there is no color in this comic, so you don't have to worry about blood or real gore or anything.  One character does get stabbed in the eye once, and at some points, another character is implied to be naked in her dreams.  While you don't actually see anything, any parents who view this comic may want to take caution with their kids.  I'd rate this one PG for action violence.  It updates almost every weekday.

Shadows of Enchantment
Shadows of enchantment seems to take place in a medieval type of setting.  The colors and action and the look of the comic is so well done, and the story has got me hooked.   There's some action violence, and one character's face, though he's a protagonist, may be a little scary for younger viewers.  Aside from that, it's clean and has no gratuitous gore and no sex, so feel free to have a look.  As for ratings, I think a PG is in order, mostly for action violence.  It updates every Thursday.

Now this is an interesting tale with an interesting concept.  The comic is very well done, and by a mom no less!  I've been keeping up with this one since I found it, and the story is really getting good.  This one is pretty tame, earning a PG for violence.  It updates on Mondays, but is on hiatus until after Christmas.

The Bean
Alas, no, this tale is not about the woes of customers and the way they spill secrets to the barista.  It is about a young boy who goes by the Bean in the comic.  It is being drawn in black and white for now, but the first few pages were beautifully done in color.  There's some action violence in here, and a few scary images, but nothing really bad.  A higher PG rating is in order for this one, but overall it is family friendly.  It updates Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

The Dreamer
This comic about a high school girl who dreams each night that she is smack in the middle of the Revolutionary War.  I like this comic a lot because the story and art are both well done, and I studied history in college.  There's a little bit of language here and there, but nothing too bad.  There's not even that much gore, despite the potentially violent setting.  I'd rate it a PG.  It updates Fridays; check it out.

This comic can get a touch over the top, but the art is beautifully done and the story is pretty good too.  There's violence, some language, and a little sexual content, so tread carefully.  Younger readers might not be ready for Dream*Scar.  I'd rate this a PG-13, definitely.  It's turning out to be a pretty good story.  According to the FAQs, the comic is updated on Fridays regularly and on Tuesdays sometimes.

So here are just a few reading materials that are on the web.  If you like them, spread the word and just enjoy them.  I certainly do.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sentience Part 3

Here's part 3 of Sentience.  It's a bit short, but this part is where the story begins to pick up.  Enjoy!


His tablet was starting to lose power, and he'd read most of the interesting articles by now anyway.  With a sigh, he slipped it into his pack and stared at his shoes, glancing up every few seconds to watch the passersby.  He pretended to search his pockets when he glanced up.  A figure in simple clothing walked down the street, not slowly, not quickly.  Her red-brown hair was covered by a hat.  As he watched, it became evident that her clothing was a uniform of some sort, probably for one of the shops nearby.  He did not look away. 

Frederick found himself looking into the eyes that were neither gray nor blue, just for an instant.  Her-its- eyebrows rose, it looked away, and Frederick dropped his gaze.  It was walking more quickly now.  He kept watching.  The machine was thinking.  Learning.  It knew, and it turned into the entrance of a department store.  The automatic doors slid open, and Marie the machine was gone. 

He stood.  He had to follow her; no question, and now if he was to ever catch her.  He stood, walking quickly to the department store and in.  Marie was disappearing up the glass elevator.  It was facing away from the door, but he followed up the antiquated staircase that stood in the middle of the store, running.  The robot stopped at the third floor and got off, walking toward some tall clothing racks.  Frederick kept after it, and it directed a quick glance behind, and he knew he'd been seen. 

"Excuse me!"  He called to her-it- as she sped up.  "Ma'am...excuse me!"  He caught up to it, grabbing the upper arm. 

The reaction was fast.  It spun around and slapped him across his face.

"Leave me alone, creeper."  The android pulled away and kept going, seeming panicked. 

Frederick was only shocked for a second.  He collected himself and fished in his pocket for the strong magnets he'd brought.  This would disable it for sometime, if not fry something.  He hurled them, connecting solidly with the back of the torso area, the cranium, and the neck.

"Ow!"  Marie spun around, then came closer.  "Look, I have no idea why you're throwing junk at me, but leave me alone or I'll find out who you are and call the police.  Just...go away, freak."

It stalked to the stairs and ran down them, going out the door.  Frederick watched as she turned neither right nor left.  Other customers were watching.  Silently, he collected the magnets.  For today, he'd lost Marie the robot, and he'd have to go back to his apartment for more ideas.  Fear raced up his spine.

This job he knew had to be done. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Know How There are Things You Just Can't Make Up?

Part 3 of Sentience will be available soon, I promise, but it's not quite ready yet. So today I've got something a little different.

Sometimes, when you're writing, it's a bad idea to use real stories and just rewrite them as fiction. Even if it really happened, it's not as believable to the audience, and it can seem a little contrived. My life is full of these little incidents (one that was successfully used for a story in my short story writing college class!) and they've made me laugh when I look back.

My Dog Hates the Mailman...
Seriously. She likes coffee though, as does the other dog.

We Eat Lasagna at Thanksgiving...
And oysters at breakfast the day after Christmas. Make of that what you want.

My Painfully Normal (But Still Fun!) Family
There is seriously not a single quirk. My family has normal conservative Christian values. We live in a nice neighborhood, drive sensible, decent cars, and gather for warm fun at Thanksgiving. I'm the only one in the family who has ever had a non-natural hair color (It has been purple and blue before) and my brother is a "token ginger." My dad works with insurance, my mom's a nurse, and we have two mixed-breed dogs. We even have good relationships with our extended family. Spooky, isn't it?

Van Down by the River...
I don't live by a river, and I don't reside in any vehicles, but I do drive a 1992 minivan. My high school's gravel parking lot was quite the medium for leaving donuts and spinning tires and kicking up lots of dust. The CD player will turn off if you hit a bump too hard, the hatch is broken, and the driver side door won't close. I am proud to inform you that its name is Bessie.

Why I Can't Hate on the Twilight Obsessed...
Well, one reason being that I actually like the books. I mean, some people just need to relax, but otherwise, whatever. The other reason I understand their obsession? I was exactly the same way over Lord of the Rings from the ages of 15 to I'm not sure when. I had a soft spot for not vampires, but hobbits. (I think I wanted to marry Pippin. Or maybe Merry. See? It's like totally a parallel with Twilight, with two dudes to choose from.) When I went to see The Return of the King I used nail glue (super glue's slightly less permanent cousin) to glue the tips of my ears together like an elf or hobbit. I knew how to make my ears convincing because it was not the first time they had been glued. I got stares, but I felt like a genius.

Private School Was Pretty Cool
Don't go imagining Chilton or anything. We didn't wear uniforms (though mornings would have been easier...) and we had teachers who were more or less pretty laid back. Actually, I think Hogwarts enforced more rules than my school did. There were actually several times when we were able to convince my high school math teacher to skip teaching and talk to us about "life" (which was often a hilarious comparison of men and women, and an analysis of the differences thereof.) My 12th grade Bible teacher (it was a Christian school) was a touch paranoid and anti-capitalist, and my English teacher was a fan of Buffy. High school, as I remember it, was fairly chill.

Willy Wonka's Light Switch
I'll cut to the chase on this one. The light switch in my brother's room has the ability to, with one flick, cut power to my bedroom. It wasn't always such. My dad once rewired something and when he put it back (the correct way, truly), he discovered that someone who had previously owned the house had made the wiring function the completely wrong way. Imagine my surprise when, suddenly, as I'm minding my own business, the power seems to go out, leaving me in pitch black and rushing out of my room to find the flashlight or another member of my family, only to discover that I alone am without power. Inevitably, if someone is new to my house and has never flipped the light in my brother's bedroom on, they logically go directly to the switch, and the fun begins again.

The Sheriff...
This man was the sheriff of my hometown for around 30 years. In addition, his many supporters in town who planned on re-electing him a couple years ago declared their allegiance via large round magnets on the backs of their cars. These magnets had the sheriff's last name featured prominently in the center. Consequently, many a car in my town drove around with the word GAY in big red letters. I must say, it's not something you see often in the conservative South.

Books Is Yummy
My copy of Twilight has been laying on my bedroom floor for a couple of weeks now because I've been reading it, and every book I read is kept right where I can find it: underfoot. My beagle has also moved into the house because he requires constant monitoring due to his kidneys. Despite the health issues, Buster (real name, I swear) is still the curious little beagle he's always been. In addition, he's recently developed a taste for paper. When no one in the house is home, Buster is zipped up inside a collapsible kennel, wherein he has food, water and blankets and is pretty happy, or so we thought. Turns out, if Buster is left alone, he figures out how to unzip the kennel and get into stuff. So far he's gone after napkins and a packet of peanut butter in my trash can, but imagine my surprise just last night to chance upon a missing ad in the back of my trade paperback copy of Twilight. The ad is merely a black and white picture of the four books in the series. 70% of the page is now gone, leaving Twilight and Eclipse as the only books visible. (Apparently Buster shares my opinions on the first and third books being the best of the four, but I digress.) The opposite page also had a nibble in it. (Fortunately it's only part of a preview of New Moon.) The best part I think, though, is that the half-consumed page now reads across the top "Sink your teeth into Stepheni-" Looks like my sweet little beagle took the text quite literally. And here I thought dogs were illiterate. When I asked him to confirm his apparent consumption of my book, he didn't deny it. At least he's honest.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Good Fictional Characters

I'm taking a break from Sentience for today and presenting the characters who I think are pretty awesome. I'll be fair and you already know my tastes are eclectic (and since I haven't read Pride and Prejudice, I'll be excluding Mr. Darcy. Though I did like the movie version. I could include him, but that, my friends, would be a bandwagon, and they tend to be uncomfortable rides.) So here goes with the coolest fictional characters.

Obi-Wan Kenobi
The classic English gentleman who always manages to politely beat someone's face in. I can't say much more. His actions speak for themselves.

The Doctor
I believe just his title is sufficient to convey the awesomeness.

Mina Harker
Unlike her needy, clingy, oft-swooning friend Lucy, Mina is an actual useful character, both in the hunt for Dracula and in helping her husband with something other than getting his shepherd's pie on the table.

Esme Cullen
Yep, another Twilight reference. But this character is particularly fascinating because she's a great (if quite worried) mom, a really nice mother-in-law, and an interior decorator. The fourth book, Breaking Dawn, finds Edward and Bella married and expecting a child. At some point between the couple's honeymoon and their child's birth, Esme fixes up and impeccably decorates a small cabin in the woods for the little family, giving the reader the impression that she enjoys publications such as House Beautiful and Southern Living when she's not being a faithful wife and a hunter/gatherer. Granted, one of her adopted daughters is also quite the fashionista, and another just simply wants to be a mom. Despite the fact that they're vampires, women will still be women. (And I can say that, because I'm one. A woman, not a vampire. The latter is fictional.)

Donna Noble

One of the Doctor's companions. It's noted that she didn't fall in love with him, but they were really good friends and the girl had some sass. The best part of watching any of the Donna Noble episodes is that she and the Doctor often have awesome verbal sparring matches. A definite improvement over the annoyingly clingy Martha Jones.

River Song
I'm at a loss as to who she actually is (or will be...or head hurts a little.) Regardless, this is an awesome character because she's a little complex, and you don't really know why. There are hints that she is attempting to atone for something she did (or will do...or...I give up) and that gives the character a dynamic that draws the audience to her while keeping the mystery element high.

Abraham Van Helsing
Seriously, he is quite the hardcore old dude. How did he find out all this vampire slaying stuff? Where did he come from, and what is his motivation? He goes all "tack up the garlic and roll up your sleeves, man, we got a transfusion to do." See? Cool.

Han Solo
I think I learned sarcasm from watching the Old Trilogy. He's normal. He's everyman in the Star Wars universe. He's awesome because we can relate.

Indiana Jones
Sue me, Harrison Ford's cool. Anyway, coolest history teacher ever. I mean, he fights Nazis and evil psychic Ukrainians! And the refrigerator move? Brilliant.

Samwise Gamgee
This guy puts up with a lot of Frodo's ring-induced PMS. That's not all, though. He's a family man above all. Sam never gets to wear the shiny armor or grow to a freakish (for Hobbits) height, but he never needs all that. He's the one who wants to settle down and marry the girl next door, but he's willing to go off and help save the world first, not even sure that he'll come back to his home again. Despite the movie versions being quite abridged compared to the books (and leaving stuff out because otherwise the films would have been about 10 hours each and it's not logical or possible to include every little picky thing), Sean Astin did a good job of portraying the inner character of Sam. Nicely done.

Raoden and Sarene
The hero and heroine, respectively, of Brandon Sanderson's outstanding novel Elantris. Though they don't meet until a good ways into the book, as written, the characters have enough chemistry (even apart!) to really take you on a wild ride and keep you entertained and hooked until the mystery is solved at the end. They're never perfect characters, but they are likeable and easy for the reader to relate to, despite both of them being royal.

Every Muppet Ever
If you're not sure who I'm talking about, look up the Muppet Show on Youtube. They're amazing.

The dragon from Eragon. I was a little sad that she lost some of her sarcastic bite in the third book.

Jack Sparrow
Bandwagon, no. I've actually seen the movies. The beauty of this character? You have no idea what his back story is beyond his dad playing for the Rolling Stones and his mom being a shrunken head. I still have no idea what he's referring to in the first one when the scene picks up with him saying "...and then they made me their king..." or what "and really bad eggs" could possibly refer to, but that's the charm. He's sort of like a pirate Indiana Jones, only without the tenure at a college. Best part? He's based on a real guy, Calico Jack Rackham, who actually had a cameo in the first Pirates film. Blink, and you might miss him hanging around Port Royal. *snerk*

So there's today's post, hope you enjoyed it. Short and sweet. If this list seems quite short, it is. The good characters in fiction vastly outnumber the absolutely annoying ones, but I'm finding that I may need to do an Annoying Characters Part 2. Anyway, stay tuned for the third part of Sentience and thanks for dropping by.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Part 2 of Sentience...and Some Apologies for It Being A Little Late...

Okay, here's part two.  Enjoy.  Here's Part 1 if you missed it.


Chapter 2:  Job

Frederick sat in his room, waiting for his other computer to start up. In seconds, the lightweight operating system had started running.  Frederick accessed the folders that held the information he needed.  It had been placed there, as promised, remotely, while he was at work.  There was a folder of pictures and a separate folder for text files.  He clicked the text folder.

Robotics.  Android, eliminate.  A robot with female attributes had escaped from the corporation.  It had been an experiment, she was unstable, dangerous even, and on the run now.  He had to find the machine and either bring it to the company or destroy it himself.  There were pictures included.  He needed to find it, by the pictures given.  It had gone by the nickname of Marie, and may be still going by that name somewhere.  She was tricky and elusive it said, able to think and learn.  He opened the folder of photographs.

A woman smiled at him from the screen.  She couldn't have been older than himself.  It was Marie, the android, so lifelike that he may have mistaken her for another human if he didn't know any better.  She was average looking, brownish red hair, eyes that may have been gray or blue, pale skin.  She'd been missing for sometime, most likely hiding in the very city where Frederick was living, where she would blend with the masses, where no one would give her a second glance.

He pulled the phone out of his pocket and stared at it.  He would take the job, maybe, but first...

"Macon.  Wonderful to hear from you so quickly."
"Mmm."  He bit his lip and kept speaking.  "So I am to collect and eliminate this woman?"
"Robot, Macon.  Or android.  This thing is not a human.  I thought that was quite obvious from the information."  The woman's voice sharpened.  "I do hope you are not backing out.  This is one job that we need you to to do, and it would be quite a shame if you refused.  Quite a shame, indeed."
"You threaten me."
"Such accusations, Macon.  Tsk tsk."  Other voices in the background.  "In truth, we really need this particular piece of technology back here, or dismantled and destroyed.  You have either option.  I would say the latter is the best."
"Why is that?"
"To avoid problems that may arise.  Now, do you agree to this job?"
He hesitated.  These people were dangerous, but this job could easily be so as well.  Anything to avoid going back to his home world.  Life was too slow there, too simple, not enough stimulation to keep him from thinking.  Better to collect a piece of property for a company than to go back.  "Yes.  I agree."

"Good luck."  A soft click sounded. 

Frederick stared at the pictures again.  One looked like a formal portrait.  Another was candid, the android leaving a restaurant and dressed rather plainly, flanked by a friend or two.  The machine walking down a sidewalk above the ground, in the city.  He recognized the building behind her.  It was a bank, and she was walking as if it were a routine to pass there.  He'd start there. 

The portrait caught his eye again, the smiling face unflinching.  He swallowed hard and closed the files.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010


So here's the next project that will be posted on this blog.  I'll try to post part of it at least every other day.  Again, it's for your enjoyment.  If yall like it, I may just make copies available in a hard format or e-book format; it depends on the reception.  I really am wanting this project to work out better than Doornail did, and I'm feeling quite optimistic.  No, don't get excited, it's not my other novel.  That's not finished yet.  This is for fun, quite rough, and for the entertainment of all, and I want you to enjoy it.  With no further comments, I now present to you Sentience.
Chapter 1:  Beep

Frederick Macon stared at the license tag in front of him as the hovering vehicle it belonged to pitched up and down gently. He was close to memorizing the sequence of numbers now, because he had been behind this car for two hours, both of them stuck in the inevitable afternoon traffic.  He had left his job at the plant at 4:30, hoping perhaps to get home early, or something resembling early. 


The phone.


THE phone.  The one that only rang maybe every few months, bringing word of some real money, real opportunities and skills for a 24-year-old line worker.  He pressed a button on the gear shift.  "Macon."

"Good evening, Macon."  The female voice was familiar.  He'd never met her.  Whoever she was, she'd given him word of his last two jobs.  "Something new for you to work on."
"Will you be sending the information in the manner we have discussed?"
"Of course."  She paused.  "Macon, this job may be a bit harder for you than others have been.  You will need to...collect and eliminate a product formula that we have lost track of."
"Eliminate?"  He frowned.  Retrieval and disposal.  Those were familiar codewords; they dealt with information exclusively.  He rarely even had to talk to any of the people involved with his targets.  He'd been off-planet once, but only because of a malfunction in one of his computers.  Collect and eliminate was a new order, and he was unsure what it meant.
"Yes, eliminate.  The information will be in the designated place that we discussed.  Contact me again if you accept this job.  Hope I'll talk to you tonight, Macon."  Silence.  The call was over.

Thirty minutes later, the traffic cleared.  Frederick looked at the right side of the road, curious as to what the problem had been.  The only thing he saw was an eagle, or at least what was called an eagle.  The reptile had been hit at some point by a car that was still stalled by the road, its bumper crumpled on the end.  The animal's carcass dangled by a wing from the partition, and two workers were trying to remove it.  Frederick watched as the creature's wing was cut loose, and looked away just as the remnants of the animal fell to the earth, far below. 

Frederick sped up, shaking the feeling that crawled through him.  It was an animal, not much more.  It wasn't as if it was a human.  And anyway, the promise of a job waited for him at home.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Regrets...

It is with the deepest regret that I inform you of the indefinite hiatus of Doornail.  Quite simply put, I have become the full time mom of an 8 year old beagle with kidney disease and little concept of "no," keeping still while being diapered, and not snacking on our towels/newspapers/clothing.  I'm still working on my novel as I can, trying to get my Etsy shop more noticed, and also getting another business started with Vitamark, a health and wellness company.  Actually, if you're in need of some funds on the side and want to get healthier, I'd love for you to check out my page for it, right here, and contact me with any interest you may have.  Vitamark has good vitamin products, some diet products, and even skin care.  Check out my Vitamark page for some more information. 

I'm also thinking of starting something in serial soon, a foray into suspense/science fiction.  Unlike with Doornail, I have an ending idea for this one, and I'd like to get started soon.  Christmastime is crazy, but I also hope to have another post up tomorrow for your enjoyment.  I'll also be having some new pieces on Etsy soon, and I hope you enjoyed the pics of some pieces I already have.  Everything's under $10 until after Christmas, so if you're looking for some presents, The Marsh Lantern Shop may have what you're looking for.  I'd like to start posting more regularly here, so stay tuned, and thanks for stopping by today.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Doornail: Part 1

All I could do was stare at the approaching hoard.  I wanted to run, but I couldn't. 

No, like seriously.  I had totally stepped in something like cement or Gorilla Glue or something like that.  Anyway, yeah, it was bad, because they were all coming towards me and they stunk to high heaven and they were mad.

I told myself not to worry.  Kevin would come.


Chapter 1:  Typical

You know how it's possible to live in a town for like your whole life and never meet someone at your high school because that's the way life works?

That's my story.  I'm not a newcomer to Poketon, and it's not a small town.  I mean, it's not exactly Manhattan, but even if it were a small town, it would be pretty hard for a teenager to have met every single person in Poketon or for many of them to know me.  That's just the way stuff works. 

These sort of statistics or whatever they are meant that I didn't meet Kevin Foxe till like...11th grade.  I didn't know who he was, really, until the fateful day, through some deus ex machina or other, he conveniently and randomly sat beside me in English class.  The first thing I noticed was his scent.

Dang, it was awful. 

And it was like August too, right?  So the guy was wearing a knit cap pulled down over his ears and a long-sleeved hooded jacket, and chewing hard on some gum.  His fingers were so pale, almost like he'd been out in the cold.  His gaunt frame was awkward in the school desk, his lips looking a little chapped, and his face yellow like a fading bruise.

Yet for some odd reason, I couldn't take my eyes off him.  He turned to me.

"Hi."  That was all he needed to say.  His voice was kind, but his breath smelled strongly of...I'm not sure what, but it was bad.  I held my breath.

"Hi," I said back. 

The chemistry was electrifying.  He turned back to the front of the room, and I knew I'd found my destiny.


Okay, that's Part 1 of Doornail for now...stay tuned for more.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Here's Some Nice Pics While I Get the Next Post Ready...

Okay, so in addition to being a writer, I also make jewelry.  Because of this past week being so busy, I haven't been able to get a good post ready yet.  So what I'm going to do is let yall look at some pictures from my Etsy shop.  Maybe you'll find something you like, or a gift for someone...after all, Christmas is right around the corner.  Enjoy!

 I'm a fan of the good Doctor, so for some reason, these earrings were inspired by that show.  Not sure why, but do indeed love blue...

Another piece inspired by space and travels therein...

And who doesn't love the iconic colors of Christmas?

 A formal take on the mushroom...
 A little lava, but pearls and shells keep things cool...
 This pendant's color depends on the background it rests against...
 I like green, I like copper...and no, that's not a reference to money...
 Some more Christmas...
And more Christmas...
 And a little more!
 The original piece that inspired the mushroom lamp...
 This one feels vacation.
Perfect for the little flower girl in your life. 

These are just a few of the pieces that I have available.  The shop has the same name as this blog.  Click right here to visit the shop at  I hope you enjoy the pieces I have and I hope you find something that you might want to get for someone else or treat yourself to.  Thanks!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Coming soon...Doornail: A Tale

It came, and life as we know it went on, with more caution than before.  Now humans live in harmony with the other kind, quietly putting up with the strange odors and the blank stares as these once horrific creatures become a part of society...but no one expected the quickly growing relationship between human and...


Join me for this epic romance thingy, presented serially and wordily (Dickens would be proud.)  Expect some good times to be had here at the Marsh Lantern.

And while you're at it, check out my Etsy store, The Marsh Lantern Shop, for some one of a kind jewelry just in time for the holidays! 

Thanks for stopping by today, and I'll see you soon with the first installment of Doornail.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Characters That Got on My Nerves

You know how sometimes there's just this one person (or several persons) who just get under your skin and don't want to leave?  Well, the same thing happens in every fiction medium.  The upside?  We get more to laugh at later.  When in doubt, spoof.

So here's my list of genuinely annoying characters (in no particular order.)

1.  Padme Amidala
So I've pretty much been a Star Wars fan since I was nine.  My favorite character will always be Obi-Wan Kenobi, the perpetually classy English gentleman who can wield a lightsaber like nobody's business, but Princess Leia is somewhere at the top of the favorites list.  I mean, she's cool.  She's calm, collected, has awesome aim, is ready to tell off any Empire official that she needs to, and marries Han Solo.  After all this epic amount of tell me that Amidala is the mother of Princess Leia?

Yes, Padme did have pretty good aim, but she was annoying, partly because of the abrupt change in her nature.  She goes from being a strong teenager, and later a strong if grating grown woman, to being the almost picture perfect description of the infamous "delicate condition."  Now, it's true that pregnant women can get a little emotional, but...really?  Even as a Galactic Senator with attitude, her tendency to be a touch idealistic got old.  Fast.  Her dialogue started to sound a lot like "Make love, not war" and "Let's talk about this, we can work out something..." and "War is never the answer; Galactic hugs can solve it all!"  At least her offspring weren't afflicted in such a way.  Thank goodness.

2.  Jacob Black
Yep, I admit it.  I'm an intelligent adult who read and *gasp* liked Twilight.  Well, mostly.  There's some funny stuff in the books, some interesting characters (multi-dimensional secondary characters that are likable aren't common, especially in romance.  Nicely done.)  No, this is not an endorsement for Team Edward.  (Go old school; choose Team Barnabas.  Yay, Johnny Depp.)  Regardless of any criticism of anything else in the books, when I read them, Jacob got on my nerves the most.  From the second book onward (because he was like a cute little kid in the first book and movie; what's not to like, right?  Everyone likes the nice guy) all he does is whine and get PO'ed at, well, everything.  He's like one of those guys who just wants to pick a fight because he wants to be a big boy and hit someone.  When I read Breaking Dawn, I was a little disappointed that 1/3 of the book was spent in Jacob's point of view.  Here's a paraphrase.

"I was seething.  I just got like, really mad, man, so I brooded a while.  Then I hit something, ate a steak, and drove my car really fast, then followed that up with some more brooding, and I took my shirt off.  Then I stared at Bella some more, and got mad again 'cause she was having her husband's kid." 
One chapter, plus  1/3 of a novel, plus way too much of the above keeps this character from being likable, at least for me.

3.  Anakin Skywalker (Younger Version)
I think he married Padme because annoying people are generally attracted to each other.  Or something.  At any rate, more could have been done with this character, considering he later became Darth Vader (who was awesome.)  All Anakin does, after he grows out of his 9-year-old perkiness, is have a tortured soul.  Here's another paraphrase.

Yeah, definitely a weak beginning for the baddest dad in the galaxy.

4.  Wesley Crusher
Need I say more?

5.  Christine Daae
"There's a voice in my wall teaching me how to sing.  Huh.  Must be the ghost of my dad.  I think I'll follow him into the mirror just to make sure."  This chick gets in my nerves.  When she and the Phantom are singing the title piece as she's going down to his lair, I cringe when she sings, not because of her voice, but because she gets on my nerves.  (Mostly I laugh, though.  That song has 80s guitar riffs.  I think I'll definitely just go see Wicked on Broadway.)   It would be one thing if the Phantom was a nice guy with some dermatological issues, but he's not.  He's a controlling pervert who will kill anyone he wants to get his way, and she still takes the whole story to decide between Raoul and the Phantom.  I like most of the music in the movie, though (never seen the actual stage musical, but yes, I am aware that there are differences.)  In the end, I want to tell poor Raoul to run away, because he could have done so much better.

 6.  Arya and Company
 I am a fan of Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle.  Yeah, there are some things in there that ring a little familiar (as a fan of both Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, they're a little obvious), but I am willing to overlook this because I like the characters and the story's well written.  Arya, though, and all of the other elves, just feel vaguely like the time I got chiggers in my legs when I was 11.  This girl, and her people, are too perfect and just a little out there for my taste.  Like literally out there.  Despite being immortal and probably being witness to the events that led to the formation of the Empire, many of them don't seem to have a clue as to what's going on in the rest of the world until the second book and seem happy to just make flowers grow and craft magical dragon tattoos.  Seriously, they don't care until someone starts burning trees.

7.  Lucy Westenra
Dracula is a great book.  As an epistolary novel, it draws the reader in because we're just as clueless as the characters as to what's going on, though there's a skillful bit of foreshadowing.  Good story, but Lucy really got to me.  She is a helpless character who I think could have been more.  (Sorry Bram.)  For crying out loud, the girl has to pick from three different potential fiances.  And she catches the eye of Vlad the Impaler.  Seriously?

I feel that she could have either been a stronger character or a nonexistent one.  Most adaptations of Dracula omit either her or Mina (or someone just falls in love with the Impaler himself.)  The latter is the better character, in my opinion.  She's smart, helpful, and strong and actually helps the guys find the offending vampire instead of sticking around her house and whining and fainting and stuff.  Granted, it's not like they know the source of Lucy's anemia in the beginning, but still.  I'm not going to re-write the book, though.  Lucy's fun to ridicule. 

8.  Estella
I can't let up on Feather.  Estella is a Mary Sue who is perfect, pretty, and, alas, a Chosen One.  She admires herself in the mirror, wonders why others aren't admitting that she's better looking, and pretty much hates on her peers because they supposedly don't like her due to her astounding good looks.  I found myself rolling my eyes at most of what she said.  She needed a lot of work that the author was not willing to put into her, and the books suffer because she's the main character.

So why this borderline hostile post?  I'm not trying to be hostile; I'm just showing you some things that you might want to keep out of your writing.  All characters deserve the work it takes to flesh them out, and your audience expects the same from you, and that's your responsibility as a writer:  to show your readers a good time.

Now just imagine a Jacob, a Wesley, an Estella, and a Lucy all in the same book.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why Should I?

After all, we've got enough stuff to entertain ourselves.  Homer, Poe, Austen, Twain/Clemens, Tolkien, Lewis, King, Meyer, Rowling, Stoker, Shelley, Stevenson, Paolini, Verne...seriously, let me take a moment and just ask y'all to give a hand to all these entertainers of the page.  Seriously, guys.  You're all great.

All right, back to what I was saying.  Why should I want to even try writing a book when there's a lot out there to read?  I mean, there's tons I could entertain myself with, lots of stories and epics and tales that I have spent hours with.  Really, why bother?  I mean, come on, we've got Harry Potter to entertain us, or Percy Jackson and his buddies (I've actually never read it...).  I ask again, why bother with my stories?  Been there, done that?  Really?

No, not really.

I realized when I was younger, when my stories were first taking shape, that it didn't seem as if my part of the world had its own little epic.  Central Europe, or Scandinavia, or Britain tend to get their fair share of the settings available for the type of fiction.  And yeah, they're beautiful, Britain especially.  But, after 24 years of being here, I'm in love with the East Coast of the United States, the Southern portion especially.  (When I was quite young, my concept of the country consisted of North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, and Michigan and Iowa somewhere up in the great beyond of the North.)  Where I live, we don't have bayous; we have marshes that turn into sounds and then become the Atlantic.  There's just something rough and lovely and old about where I live.  Go west, and you'll venture into the Blue Ridge and Great Smokey Mountains, a place that always feels slightly haunted by the spirits of the Cherokee that once wandered there so long ago, some of whom remain to this day, living in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

North Carolina is a different sort of place to live, and I've always known this.  That same beautiful rawness that I've seen my whole life is the thing that inspires me, literally.  At one time, I was going to set my books in West Virginia, but I've only been there once, for my senior trip.  (Snowshoe Mountain is a gorgeous place to ski, by the way.)  What a mistake that would have been.  West Virginia is a beautiful place, and I know some cool people from there, but there's nothing in the world quite like hearing someone speak and knowing within the first three words they say that they probably have the same area code as you do.

Okay, so back to why bother.  I bother because I think it's only fair that we get our own chance, we here on the East coast.  I think it's because we have marshes.  You know those old marsh lights?  I think some have called them will 'o the wisp...those little lights that lead people deep into the marsh...those are stories my friend, just waiting to happen.  I'll follow one, all right.  Oh, but I promise...good stories always lead you back out to where you wanted to go in the first place.

But they rarely leave you the same.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Raven: A Book Review (the last for the Feather Book Series, I promise)

Okay, I finally finished reading the very last book in the Feather Book Series. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finished, because reading these books was seriously work. So what's my take on it?

Raven picks up right as Guardian ends. (Spoiler: Edgar's back, just so we can clear stuff up.) Edgar and Estella are happy again, for a little while, until she finds out that she's the One (italicized just like that the whole book) and has to save the world, which is being destroyed because of pollution. Edgar, it turns out, likes violence (never indicated other than his eyes get really bright when something violent is about to happen or has happened.) This dying earth thing is the only conflict in the book. So Estella gives Edgar the ice queen treatment for way too long until they make up and look for her prophecy (it's a physical, tangible thing that has a personality and pretty lights.) Soon after, Edgar and Estella are intimate for the first time (they're married.) The next morning, Estella leaves, saves the world, and washes up on the shore of a lake, no longer immortal. She meets other humans who seem to worship her, including her foster mother, and then begins a marathon of throwing up a lot and getting weak despite eating lots of nutritious foods (berries and such. Yum.) She is taken back to a shelter and tries to cut her wrist open because she's still getting sick. (I've seriously never felt suicidal during a bout of stomach flu.) She finds out from someone that she's pregnant and only has morning sickness, then the book fasts forward about 81 years. Miraculously, she's lived to 100, having had a daughter and a granddaughter. Then she gets to go to Heaven, and a small ending page potentially alludes to future series about Estella's granddaughter Samantha (tortured, pained soul with special gifts. Oh joy.)

I'll be honest, I was a little bored by this book. The only conflict was Estella being mad at Edgar for a good half of the book. The angle of "humans have messed up the earth real bad" was a little...well...done. I felt myself being more annoyed by Estella than sympathetic. Towards the end of the book, she thinks something like "obviously she wasn't as worried about me as I was about her" (regarding a complete stranger). That's a big indication of someone who is self-absorbed. Even in this last book, Estella fails to be a likable character. I think she could have been, with more work and less deus ex machina, but the character is cheated of likability. Also, the logic breaks down at the end of the book. The events of the novel take place in 2010, when Estella is at a physical age of 18. Estella's child is born in early 2011. The last few pages feature a diary entry by Estella, dated 2091, in which Estella speaks of being in her true eighties in age. Truly, she'd be about 99, and her daughter would have to be 81 years old. Estella's daughter has a 10-year old child, meaning that Margriete (Estella's daughter) had a natural child at the age of 71. However, it is never indicated that Margriete is any older than maybe her thirties. Needless to say, I was a little confused.

Overall, Raven left me unsatisfied. I kept hoping that some character would redeem himself or herself, but the characters never changed. I'm finished reading this series, and I feel a little cheated out of what could have been a good story. At least my boyfriend and I had a good laugh at the phrase "cold sugary lips" that appears in the story.

I'll be back tomorrow with more. And I'll be working on my novel. Happy National Novel Writing Month!

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Almost Totally Forgot!

November is National Novel Writing Month.  Every year, seriously, I tell myself, "hey, I'm gonna get some good work done on my book.  Shoot, maybe I'll finish a first draft."  And guess what happens every year?

Pretty much I either just work, have homework (during college), and make cookies for Thanksgiving.

Okay, so what am I going to start today?  Besides vacuuming my kitchen and living room, I'll be committing to the first novel in the sequence I'm writing, for at least an hour each day.  I'm also going to be finishing up Raven, the third book in Abra Ebner's Feather Book Series.  Also, my regular work (copywriting) is picking up quite well, so that's exciting.  With that encouragement, I am going to dive into my work.

How, you may ask?

Pen and paper, my friends.  I write with Pilot gel pens in those black and white speckled notebooks.  Why such archaic methods?  I mean, I finally got a new shiny Dell Studio.  Why use an arguably slower way of writing?

Answer:  for me, it's a whole lot faster.

When I write something on a computer, and I am able to see print in front of me, my proofreading reflexes go nuts, and I edit everything I write that instant.  I type fast, but all the "must edit now!" feelings slow me way down.  (Seriously.  I find a typo in a paper or a book, it's like finding Waldo without even trying.  At least for me.)  Writing in my messy handwriting on a blank paper with lines is nice.  I don't have to edit it, unless I want to cross something out or add in a sentence in the margins.  I can make notes to myself for future reference when I'm copying the text into my computer.  This strange attachment to the speckled notebooks means that any purse I have must be able to hold a notebook in it.  (Yes, I do try the notebook/purse combination before buying.  Thank you for asking.)  The good news?  I've started a new notebook that is designed to be tacked onto (not literally) the notebook that contains what was originally the first part of my story. 

So that's what I'll definitely be doing this month.  If I finish by the end of the month, great.  If I don't, well then, I'll keep working at the same pace because I want to finish this project soon.  (It's been about nine years in the making.)  It has begun already, in the middle of nowhere, in a tiny village, with a rather strange occurrence.

How will you be spending National Novel Writing Month?  Feel free to discuss, and thanks for stopping by today!  Coming soon:  a review of the final installment in the Feather Book Series, the novel Raven.

Update:  I did write today, for about half an hour.  My wrist cramped, so I took a break.

I'm such a wimp.  But I did write. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Niche? Goodness, I Hope Not...

One of my most recent worries is that the novels I am working on are too much of something that fits only into a niche.  My dream is to be the next J.K. Rowling (I'm really only half joking...) and her books appeal and apply to all, even adults like me, despite the very young main characters in the Harry Potter series.  Imagine my surprise that, despite the always full shelves at Books-a-Million, speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc.) is a niche that not everyone can get into.  Honestly, I don't like the pure fantasy genre.  Maybe it's the astounding number of chosen ones, or maybe it's the vital-organ-exposing leather bikinis that female characters wear, but all the Tolkien (or Greek epic) clones out there really bug me.

Don't get me wrong, I like fantastical elements.  One of my favorite books is The Neverending Story.  (Not the movie...the book.)  I like it because it reads like a story book, but there's a little bit of scary, a little mystery here and there ("but that's another story and shall be told another time..."), and I love the characters.  I love the Harry Potter books.  I was recently thrilled to get the first two in hardcover for my 24th birthday.  They combine fantasy with a little mystery (yes, I did wonder endlessly about R.A.B.) and some comedy, with a touch of scary on top.  Add the characters that feel real and you've got a great story.  Concerning sci-fi, the jury's still out on that one.  My favorite movie is Star Wars, but that film doesn't really count as sci-fi (space opera is the applicable term.)  I enjoyed J.J. Abrams' take on Star Trek (the man knows how to mess with your head...), but it's also that the movie was just plain entertaining.  I occasionally indulge in some Next Generation, but that was a very character driven show (and Data is just like my boyfriend.  Awesome.)  I generally don't read or watch horror, but I enjoyed Sleepy Hollow, mostly because it's a fine mystery, an early CSI: NY, quite literally.  These particular stories do well because they can appeal to so many people for different reasons.

That's what I want to do with my books.  I'm gonna need encouragement in this area.  It's a fantasy mystery that combines the amazing locale of modern Eastern North Carolina, lacks the teenage romance that seems to be the norm these days, a mystery that has to be solved, and time running out for a world that resembles colonial America (seriously, tired of the all-too-common pseudo-Germany/France) with a little interesting machinery thrown in (think the Antikythera mechanism, and little to no steam.)  Will it work?  If I'm nitpicky enough, yeah, it'll work fine as long as I make it work.  As long as I can keep two teenage characters from turning into just another Edward and Bella couple clone (they're nothing like them.  Don't worry; I can't stand blatant copies.)  I'd like for anything I write to appeal to all audiences of all ages.  Wish me well, because I'm writing for everyone's enjoyment.  In fact, I'll keep my self accountable.  I'll post my progress daily, and y'all feel free to remind me or leave comments.  I love comments.  I welcome them.

Thanks for stopping by today, and tune in tomorrow for more!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I Put Up With: Trends, Blocks, and The South

Okay, so I'm a writer.  I've pretty much subconsciously known that this was the case since I was a 9-year-old fan of The Babysitters Club and decided that I wanted to be the author of something.  Stories and the potential for such tend to, well, erupt out of the most random things and at the (sometimes) most inopportune moments.  I carry a small notebook and pen with me for such occasions.  I am currently working on a novel and facing those nagging doubts that afflict all writers.  The honest truth?  There's a lot to put up with.

A jaunt to the bookstore or a celebrity news column usually lets me know the trends in writing.  People like to hear a smart commentary on the days events, but they like to escape every so often.  Here's where the popular group comes in.  Vampires have been hot for a couple of years, for example.  Popular books often get made into popular movies or TV shows, which leads to more fans and higher book sales (principle of publishing:  subsidiary stuff sells books quite well.)  Okay, so what?  Well, that's where the doubt comes in.  I find myself wondering sometimes "Do I need to write the next Twilight or Southern Vampire Mysteries to get noticed?"  How do you get successful (which, be honest, all writers want) and still remain true to ourselves when the temptation is so great to sell out?

Oh yes, I've run into this problem.  See, my main character is female (like me.)  The main supporting character is male.  When I was writing him initially, he was not entirely human and had hazel gold eyes.  This character came about in the fall of 2002, so no, I did not copy Stephanie Meyer, nor would I because that would show a lack of integrity on my part.  No one besides myself and my boyfriend has read any of these early copies, and his eye color is not mentioned much at all.  Imagine my frustration when, even as my own work was unfinished, I find a published work that was the big thing and the male lead has golden eyes.  Is that anyone's fault?  Not really.  That eye color is common among nice fictional vampires (along with blue.  Yay blue and gold, my high school's colors.)  My frustration arose from the fact that a defining feature of a beloved character was now something that could bring about a charge of "you copied Twilight!" from anywhere.  I've learned that no character should be defined by looks, but still.  I mean, I have this character with this cool dynamic, and he's fleshed out and complex (and still not fully human) and oh. *sigh*  Really?  Fine. Then there's the "male and female best friend pair" thing.  Always liked it.  Can I use it?  Sure, but I have to watch the "teenage romance" issue as well.  It's been done over and over again, and it's nice, but not my favorite subject, at all.  Oh yeah, tortured good guy angels.  They're getting big in fiction, more I think than vampires and werewolves.  I'm not even gonna touch on that one, and I stay away from it when I write.

Writer's block is real, and it does happen to me.  There are times where I stare at a blank page, mentally saying either "Uhhhhhhhhhh..." or "Hmm, maybe I should read this book first, oh here's a spelling error, lemme change this, I should wash dishes, oops, I need to check my email, time to feed the dogs."  It honestly does help to write some stuff down, to think in text so to speak.  I also tend to use my boyfriend as a sounding board for ideas I'm not sure about, since he's technically a part of my audience.  If you're having issues with wondering "what happens next" then you're not alone, and eventually ideas will come to you if you're willing to think or not get distracted.

The South.  Oh boy, no pressure there.  I'm faced with the fictional counterpart of my home region all the time, and I wonder often how I can do it justice.  There are big differences geographically between even North and South Carolina.  My fiction, which is set in rural, Eastern North Carolina (born and raised, but not exactly West Philadelphia...) has to measure up to visions of magnolia trees, cotton, and that backwoods charm where everyone's a friend and every town's a speed trap.  Yeah, we have magnolias and cotton and definitely our fair share of speed traps, but we don't really live up to a stereotype here.  It's hard to know what to say, because the South is the fictional haven for vampires and other types of beings, and I feel some pressure, because people don't want to think of this region of the country as anything but nostalgically stagnant.  Do I want to change my work?  Of course not.  Regardless of where you're from, my upbringing was as normal as yours.  (Also, if you ever meet me, avoid trying to copy my accent in the middle of a sentence that I am speaking.  A)  You can't.  B)  It's rude to interrupt.  Yes, I have had this happen.)  Add all these different pressures together and try to have convincing characters with realistic actions and dialogue.  It's not easy, but you're not alone either. 

Oh yeah, and when my novel is famous, I'm totally making it a requirement that the producers of the movie provide someone who can coach a correct Eastern North Carolina accent.  Just sayin'. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Characters: Mary and Gary Revisited (Part Two of a Series)

So the other day I mentioned Mary Sue and Gary Stu, two individuals who tend to show up in fiction, usually under various aliases and disguises. So who are they, and how can you ban them from your fiction? (Trust me, you want them banned. They're annoying.)

We'll start out by discussing the most obvious characteristics of Mary or Gary. Usually, each character will be quite good looking. I'm not talking everyday, nice looking, attractive individual. No, that's never good enough. I'm talking mind-blowing, in your face, you-could-never-hope-to-look-this awesome. Generally, Mary or Gary will have striking eyes. Striking, in this case, usually means a color that no normal iris could be. Blue is a popular eye color for Mary or Gary, but brown and green come in at a close second. Of course there's always the inexplicable "lavender" or "golden" that tends to show up from time to time. Mary Sue will never have acne, despite usually being an older teenager or young adult. Her skin will be "milky" or "creamy" or "flawless." She may have blond hair, but not always. Brown is an option as well, but always "soft" brown or "flowing chestnut locks." Black hair is a plus, especially if Mary has had a particularly difficult life. Gary Stu will tend to have brown hair. Most of the time, Mary Sue and Gary Stu will be quite tall for the time in which they live, but never too far above average. This works out in romantic situations or fights. Towering over men would mean that Mary Sue would be seen as competition for the men or be harder to rescue. Gary should be an average height. Eventually, he will be required to wrestle with some large individual, not a foe, but an ally who does not think Gary can do the job. Gary will win, because he is perfect. (If he were too tall, he would have an unfair advantage over the other men. Perfection in a world where everyone is less than such is always fair.) Gary or Mary will always be athletically fit, regardless of whether they lead an active life. Doing hard chores on a farm will give them particularly sculpted muscles, all over. Mary, of course, will not be too muscular. Just strong and pretty.

Mary Sue and Gary Stu usually also have certain abilities that they can learn or be born with, regardless of the ability. Often, Mary is an orphan girl who grows up a slave on a farm or a misunderstood apprentice to the nice florist in the village. Usually, she will have endured an illogical amount of abuse. Gary has the same background, usually. Their abilities are always amazing, but they will need to be honed. Things like controlling plants or calling up various weather phenomena (love you Stan Lee!) can be an ability for Mary or Gary, but are usually limited to Mary Sue. Magic, in any case, will be available to both Mary Sue and Gary Stu, if they just believe in themselves, or have the usual wizened mentor to lead them in all paths of magic. (Note: this does not mean that any magical system in any book will lead to Mary Sue and Gary Stu showing up. Harry Potter is a good, gawky, awkward example of a magical character who is not a Gary Stu.) It will be true, almost without exception, that Mary Sue and Gary Stu will both be able to wield a sword with an amazing proficiency, with little instruction. (This may or may not be because his or her father or mother or both were also masters of the blade.) They will be fast, agile, strong, and skilled, usually on a level that one only achieves by being raised in an institution that shares similarities with the Jedi Temple. They may also be slightly depressed, for whatever reason.

Where do they usually show up?

Fanfiction is a common place for Mary Sue and Gary Stu to show up. (Visit the Inheritance Forums writer's section for a good, centralized example of what I mean. Some of the other fiction on there, not necessarily fanfiction, will also have examples of Mary Sue or Gary Stu.) They also tend to show up the most in fantasy, because most of the more reality-based fiction out there has little room for unrealistic perfection at the office. Plus it's just not that entertaining or engaging.

The most blatant example of a Mary Sue in published fiction is Estella in the Feather Book Series. She is introduced as a depressed young adult who has just aged out of the foster care system. As mentioned before, she has managed to complete a four-year degree in her spare time, implied to be through night-courses after she finished her high school homework. Instantly, this is a turn-off, because she's so remarkably intelligent that the reader can't hope to relate...or compete. She also describes herself as being remarkably beautiful and unique (this is always a warning sign, when a character begins to describe him or herself.) While it's acceptable for her lover boy, Edgar, to say that she's pretty, for her to constantly (yes, seriously, several times or more) go out of her way to describe her remarkable hair (platinum blond) and eyes (crystal blue) is annoying. This is just one example, and it occurs in what could be considered a fantasy book.

Why does it happen? That's pretty easy to tell you. Mary Sue and Gary Stu tend to show up because the authors express how they see themselves. This is not unnatural, or any indication that the author thinks too highly of herself. Think of a girl who has a crush on some dude, and another girl flirts with him or is even dating this crush. The first girl (we'll call her Lilly) will automatically think, however subconsciously, "I"m better-looking than her. How could he pick her? What does he see? She has like, nothing on me." Yep, I've done it too. I'm not the first, and I won't be the last with this type of thinking. This gut reaction can lead to Mary and Gary sneaking into fiction without warning, and they're hard to deal with because they steal the spotlight and get in the way of the rest of the story (mostly because of how annoying they are, but also because the plot is overshadowed.) What you will have to learn to do is keep them out or kick them out if they've become squatters in your universe.

First, avoid having your characters describe themselves very much. In reality, it's not too necessary to describe your main character because many readers tend to see the character as either looking like them or completely different from what you intended. Often, I will get a picture in my mind of what the main character looks like either because of her personality or her name. It's a reality of writing, so go with the flow and let your character define him or herself by personality rather than looks. Second, don't give your character too many remarkable abilities. One talent or particularly special ability is fine, as long as this character is not solving every single problem that arises. (When this happens, it's like deus ex machina, but not as clever.) Third, let the character have flaws. A human character (or elf or vampire or misunderstood orc), who is sweet or fair all the time, without fail and without wavering, is not realistic in fiction. Many readers see this type of character as someone with whom they cannot relate and it's a turnoff. Make characters that are convincing, can carry the story without being able to solve all the problems, and who are on the same level as your readers. Example: I love Spiderman and Batman. Why? Simple. Spiderman starts out as a poor college student, something I have definitely experienced, and that makes him closer to the reader despite superpowers. Batman is wealthy, but he's human. He has no superpowers and is forced to literally do things the hard way. (And I would love to give Chris Nolan a big hug for his take on Batman. Brilliant.) I love these characters because I can relate to them as a human, though they are men and I am a woman. I can't relate to a character who is too beautiful, talented, and sweet, because I am not those things. I knit, make jewelry, write, and play violin; and I'm really not all that sweet most of the time. Readers like me want to read about a character who is just as average. They feel cheated out of some serious boosting when a character who is already magic, beautiful, and talented wins a battle, because it's predictable. Readers want to see the character struggle, just as they would struggle themselves. It's not because readers are cruel or antagonistic. They just want to look at a character in fiction and think "Hey, maybe I can do that too."

Thanks for stopping by today, and stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Guardian: A Book Review

So you've probably read my review of Feather, by Abra Ebner.  Feather is part of the Feather Book Series, which has a total of three books, the other two being Guardian and Raven.  I finished Feather for the second time and decided to read the sequels for purpose of review, and to see what happened next.  I bought the remaining books, plus one other, and anticipated beginning Guardian.

If you've read the first review, you already know my feelings on the potential of Feather.  That potential carries through the whole series.  In Guardian, Estella is trying to come to terms with the events of the first novel, and is trying to move on, with the sometimes help of her guardian angel, Sam.  (Sam's story is pretty interesting itself.)  She visits her former college to see her friends Scott and Sarah, and to see the decoy of Edgar that was left behind to teach Edgar's classes.  She finds out where Scott and Sarah are staying and, after some inconsistent snarky inner thoughts about the "slightly British" nurse, meets up with Scott and Sarah, who are engaged and living in her old cabin.  Estella, trying to tell the other two that she is a hybrid (of what, I'm not sure), manages to tell them that she is a Wiccan (which she is not; I looked up the definition of Wiccan to see if there was one I didn't know; there isn't.)  Scott and Sarah think it's just peachy keen that Estella's a Wiccan (she tries to correct them with hybrid; I get confused); Sarah starts jumping up and down and clapping her hands. (Again with the junior high behavior.  How did these people get to grad school?)  After talking to her human friends, Estella returns to her home and goes on a quest to find Edgar (spoilers...oops) in the City of the Gods, somewhere under the earth.  She is accompanied by Sam and another character; if you read the book, you'll see who it is.  (Or you can wait until my analysis; either is good.)  At the end, Estella returns empty-handed to her home, and sometime later helps Sarah and Scott with their wedding, getting a surprise visit from a certain someone at the end.

Pretty interesting, but it failed to captivate me.

When the three characters are traveling in Heaven (which is under the earth; according to the text of this novel, Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth is accurate.  I've read Journey to the Center of the Earth; subterranean earth in Verne's book is not anything close to what it is in Guardian.)  This series is self-published, self-edited, and full of grammar mistakes and typos that may have been avoided had anyone else read the book.  The story is quite interesting, though I will disagree with the author as to the "mystery" surrounding Edgar Allen Poe's death; it isn't a mystery, and I think someone attending him on his deathbed would have noticed the icy skin he possesses in this book (he's a guardian angel.)  Again, Estella sees fit to remind us that she is perfect, beautiful, and powerful.  This lack of flaws is not what keeps her from being a likable character; it's the fact that she's rather mean and can be self-absorbed and a touch bi-polar.  Her actions tend to be passive ("I noticed" rather than "I saw"), and once again, we get a play-by-play of her facial expressions and the tone of her voice.  Estella often cannot decide whether she resents or appreciates Sam and often thinks some pretty mean stuff about people that she calls friends; she then goes on to say how much she treasures that person.  When she meets the council of gods at the end of the book, Estella even has the nerve to say that a goddess who is closely scrutinizing her face is less beautiful.  In the first chapter, Estella admires her face in the reflection on the kitchen counter.  Honestly, when I read that, it made me want to shut the book and not pick it up again.  Unless the point is to make this character very unlikeable, she's not put together well.  With a little more work, I think she could have been a great character, but I think Ebner wrote this book too quickly to really give her characters the justice they deserve. 

The book's grammar is also off and she uses the word "butt" way too much, and it's not really comical.  (That word belongs in movies like Shrek and others that are meant to be funny on different levels.  In a fantasy romance like Guardian, it looks awkward, immature, and first-draftish.)  The editing is lazy.  I say this because it may be hard to edit your own stuff, but it is possible.  Sure, a book's huge, but taking it chapter by chapter would have alleviated some of the glaring problems that I found.  The writing gets repetetive.  Here's a paraphrase of one short passage.  "...the wall.  'It's a wall,' I said.  But it wasn't just any wall."  The second two sentences were redundant, uneccessary.  Describing the wall would have told us that it "wasn't just any wall." 

Overall, Guardian had the same potential as Feather.  The plot was more involved, but quite linear.  The characters were passive and never changed or grew.  The main character is not one that readers can relate well to; not only does she exhibit Mary Sue-like tendencies, she also can be unjustifiably mean towards those she considers to be "the little people" (quoted directly from the book, I swear.)  Guardian could have been a good story, but like the book that came before it, it fails to live up to what it could have been and is plagued by the same problems as the first one. 

Right now, I'm working my way through Raven (spoilers!  Edgar's point of view gets some air-time) and I am looking forward to posting a review of it on here.  If you can, try to take a look at the text, and I'll be posting an analysis of the book with tips on writing based on what I've read.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Out for a few days...

I've been less than frequent with posting lately, but I will be delayed for a few days.  Let's just say it's a family emergency going on, and I'll be back as soon as possible. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Characters: Putting Yourself in Your Work (Part One of a Series)

Let me start by confessing that when I write a story, I tend to make cameos within the narrative.  I don't always function as the main character, but I am there, keeping an eye on the inhabitants of my mini universes.  I could be anyone from the work-stressed sister on the other end of the phone to the blue-haired (yep, my a hair's been that color more than once) background character who's actions are a catalyst of sorts, but it's a habit now for me to be there in some capacity.  I believe that there is nothing wrong with that in the least bit.  In one of my current projects, my main character basically is me, tweaked of course, and with several differences, but she is me, exploring a world I made up.  I'll restate that there's nothing wrong with this.


Oh yes, until.  This word just makes me giddy with anticipation, because it means I'm about to fully analyze and critique something.  (Favorite hobby, seriously.)  Okay, I'm back now.

It's fine to stick yourself in your story.  If you want your main character to be a variant of you, that's fine, but watch out for Mary Sues and Gary Stus.  They tend to be rampant in fanfiction, but I have also caught them lurking in books that I've purchased.  (Yes, there are different degrees of Sue and Stu, and the pair is quite sneaky.  They're like glamor ninjas.)  The most blatant type of Mary Sue tends to occur when the author inserts herself as the powerful and extremely beautiful main character.  Gary over here shows up in the same way.  Usually, they're pretty average height (a 21st century type of average, regardless of the era they live in) and either have something inexplicable about them (abilities or appearance), and they never live an average life.  If they are not a princess/prince, then they are a beggar who is really a princess/prince and life is hard.  Abuse is common for Mary and Gary.  Sobsob, crycry.  Writers, avoid this at all costs.

When you decide to make your main character a version of you, do so in personality.  If he or she looks like you, fine.  Having a picture of a character in your head for reference is a great idea.  It helps you visualize actions that they or other characters make, see someone's face as they speak, and understand how the character would move if they walk, run, swing a sword, or drive a car.  But a mistake that some writers make is going out of their way to describe the character, pointing out Mary or Gary's eye color or hair sheen or unblemished skin constantly.  Usually, when you flip to the author's picture, you'll find that they are the spitting image of their perfect main character.  (Feather, which I reviewed earlier, has the dubious honor of being exactly like this.  I do not exaggerate when I say that Estella describes herself every few pages.  It gets old reading about someone being perfect in looks.)  I know that as far as the Twilight Saga goes, many people either love it to obsession or hate it with a passion, but the lack of self-description was actually something that impressed me.  There's a little bit of description, but it's in context as to where the character lives at the beginning of the story.  Actually, you never get a clear grasp on what Bella looks like until the fourth book, when one of the Cullen sisters remarks on the color of Bella's eyes when she was human.  Nicely done.  Yeah, she looks like the author, but does not ever come across as "I'm perfect in every external way."  Also, if you have an evil character, please refrain from making them look like the slightly petty, mean, and popular girl in your school.  Female villains tend to be slightly perfect as well, and that's just as annoying.

Give your character flaws.  And I don't mean "they're a worrier" or "they get stressed easily."  I mean give them real flaws.  They're scared, or they have acne.  (Glasses, by the way, are hardly a cosmetic problem.  Yeah, I wear contacts now, but mostly out of convenience.  For me, they're easier to maintain.  If they were harder to own, I'd totally have glasses.)  Maybe they're mean sometimes, even to their best friend, or *gasp* they can't use a sword with any competence whatsoever.  You have to be careful, though, of making your main character unlikeable.  Let them have flaws, but normal, human, every day flaws.  Characters who are unpopular in school because "popular kids are mean" are not realistic.  (I went to private school for 13 years.  I wasn't exactly Homecoming Queen, but I wasn't ridiculed for stupid stuff like having curly hair or wearing knee socks with my skirts.  Actually, high school was rather nice.)  That's one of the things I liked in the Harry Potter series.  Harry can be an awkward guy, but he has friends.  Yeah, he has enemies, and he's not super popular at Hogwarts, but he has a good circle of people who like him, and with whom he hangs out.  Most of the ones who don't like him feel that way because they are actual foes with an agenda.  (Poor Snape and his unrequited love for Lily, though.)  Without the list of mortal enemies, it's a convincing story of adolescence.  Okay, J.K. Rowling hardly put herself into that story, but you see the point.  Don't make your story into a pity party about your life if your life is pretty average and pretty good.  (Okay, the Dursleys were mean, but jealousy fueled it, and the 90s were a grungier time anyway.)

You don't always have to be the main character.  Remember, there is an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.  Let yourself be an observer, or a background character.  You could be the main character's best friend, helping them decide stuff.  But most writers will choose to make the main character another version of themselves, and that's fine as long as the character is convincingly imperfect, just like you.  It can be hard to build a character that everyone can relate to, but if you're willing to actually work on a character instead of taking the lazy route and making them perfect/powerful/the Chosen One, you and your readers will be rewarded.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to Annoy Your Audience: Stereotypes and Generalizations

The typical fictional New York City will usually be characterized by a few things. First, fictional NYC citizens are rude and soulless.  Old people and children will always be roughly shoved out of the way of tough city folk, and money and success define a fictional NYC citizen's life. Second, in the fictional NYC, soulful, green-haired, spontaneous, and poor artists populate Greenwich Village or any of the nicest neighborhoods in Manhattan. Third, you have to use a specific lingo in order to receive food from any eating establishment.  Topping it all off, the negative vibes in fictional NYC are enough to cause a river of Pepto pink slime to run under the city and bring back the soul of Dracula's rival-in-meanness neighbor.


See how annoying all that is? Not only that, it's pretty insulting to make all those generalizations.  (Except for the last part.  Ghostbusters, you get an exemption.)  New York City, to the average tourist, is quite fast-paced, but the people are awesome and the city is amazing.  Okay, my second point was first made in my creative writing textbook, but it is true.  People tend to put poverty stricken, fictional artists in a lovely loft apartment in Greenwich Village.  Only thing is, Greenwich is a beautiful neighborhood and it's pretty expensive to live there.  (Also, I don't know too many artists, but I do know that most of them are fun people who are focused on their work rather than doing random and typical free-spirited things.)  Also, since most New Yorkers speak English, they understand perfectly when you say "I'd like a cheeseburger and an iced tea, please."

Now we can move on to the stereotypical South.

In the stereotypical South, everyone everywhere drawls everything.  Sentences take five minutes to finish. Cotton is still king, and football is the life of everyone who's anyone.  Southern belles always have an air of treachery about them, and every upstanding woman wears pearls.  There is also lots of background music, usually consisting of a harmonica or some slow, methodical picking of random guitar strings.  The stereotypical South, Louisiana especially, also tends to be a choice residential area for vampires.  They like the football programs, I suppose.

While music and vampires aren't necessarily stereotypes, everything else is.  How do I know this?  Well, I live in the South.  Fiction that includes Southern locations and a Gone with the Wind accent permeating all the speech is, quite frankly, annoying.  (No, I didn't intend that Rhett Butler allusion there.  That's just a bonus.)

Granted, I do live in North Carolina.  Cotton wasn't king here so much as tobacco.  Being more of a vaguely British/pirate persuasion, we don't speak all that slowly.  True, there are certain people who insist on the haughty, Southern blue-blood, old money thing, but even that has a different flavor than somewhere like, say...Georgia.  There aren't old plantation houses on every block.  (In truth, only about 4% of the antebellum Southern population actually lived on a plantation.)  Recently, I've read somewhere that North Carolinians speak more of a "proper English" than other states, stemming from the many English settlers in the state.  North Carolina is pretty unique, actually.

It's not the only unique place though.  When a character is described as having a "Southern" accent, and when that accent is the only defining feature of that character, the writer is cheating both herself and the readers.  For one thing, every state has a different accent, or two different, or three.  (North Carolina has at least three regional differences in accents, spanning from the Coastal Plains, which I have, and the Western North Carolina accent.)  "Southern" characters who are Southern in accent only are annoying, flat, and less than they could be.

British accents can be the same way.  There are many different accents in the British isles, and saying that someone has a "slight British" accent (as Abra Ebner does in Feather) is a little bit lazy. Not only is it lazy, it also means that you're cheating yourself out of some character development and dialogue, and this goes for any accent.  Instead of your main character observing that another character has a British/Southern/whatever accent, have them make conversation.  It might look something like this:  "The boy had an accent, but Susie couldn't place it.  'Where are you from?'  Louis looked up from his book.  'I'm from....'"  This conversation establishes characterization.  If your main character doesn't want to be embarrassed by asking such a question, imply that and let them find out later.

If you're unsure about a location, and you want to write about it, please do your research.  My complaint with many books is that the author simply does not do research in key areas.  If you set your stories in a real life location, but get things blatantly wrong (you'll see more of this in my analysis of Feather) about the area, then someone is bound to notice.  (Spoiler alert:  Feather mentions the "hillsides of London" once...but London is a metropolitan area.  Ravines of New York?  Crashing waves in Oklahoma?  I've never been to London, but Doctor Who is sometimes set there and 28 Days Later was a great story partly set in London...I have a good idea of what it looks like.)  When you don't bother to get details right because you assume that no one will know or care, you insult your readers.

Also, there's generalizations about people that you never want to make.  Many times, I am assumed to be Goth, and I am not.  I do wear a lot of darker colors, for various reasons.  Mostly taste.  I do like dark red lipstick (classy!) and lace.  (I even wear pearls, but I swear I stay away from the hoop skirts.)  Also, I tend to be seen as a pessimist.  (I'm not.)  While I realize that I probably invite these generalizations (unintentionally...), they're not fair in writing.  Again, defining a character solely by appearance, dress, or accent is a bad idea.  You end up with flat characters who cannot grow or change because they have no substance to change from.  The same applies to places.  Defining New York City, the South, Southern California, or anywhere based on what you've read in books or seen in movies is going to prove problematic.  That's why it's important to write what you know.  If you want to do differently, then at least research what and where you are writing about.  Your story will make more sense and will seem more real.

Check back for my next post.  Right now, I'm reading through Guardian, the sequel to Feather.  I hope to have a review of that up soon, and an analysis of Feather that can help you see where a story can go wrong.  I'll also be writing about characters next.  Stay tuned, and thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Now Present to You...Feather: A Book Review

And your patience is definitely appreciated. I have just finished re-reading this book to refresh my memory of it, and I must say, the experience was interesting for the second time.

You may be wondering how I came across Feather. Here's the story. About a year ago (maybe a little more) a writer, Jordan Scott, tried to bring a lawsuit against Stephanie Meyer. Scott claimed that Meyer had stolen text from her obscure book, The Nocturne, and used the ideas in the not-so-obscure Breaking Dawn. Being immensely curious, I had to look into this case more, and found parts of The Nocturne on Google Books, then looked up reviews on Amazon. One reviewer mentioned that this book was "nothing like Twilight" and that the Feather book series was better for Twilight fans. That got my attention, because I had never seen Feather or the sequels in a bookstore. Long story short, after a couple of days of reading previews on Google Books and some hemming and hawing, I ordered Feather to see for myself, just out of curiosity. I found that the author, Abra Ebner, had published this book herself along with several others that she wrote. (Here is her blog, with links to her other blogs.) Ambitious, to say the least, and she definitely knows how to market, which did impress me. Despite taking 20 credit hours in college at the time, I read this book eagerly, hoping to give my mind a break.

Not possible, sadly.

I'm a notoriously picky person, but if a book is enjoyable enough, I can push aside some of my nitpicking and just enjoy the book (hence the rather odd place that the actual Twilight series has on my bookshelf. I like it. End of story, no pun intended.) I was willing to give Feather a chance to wow me, but it didn't.

The plot is of an 18-year-old orphaned student named Estella. This character has grown up being able to inexplicably manipulate plants and make them grow, being ridiculed by her peers because of her green thumb, and basically being beautiful and perfect. Estella leaves her foster home and goes off to a secluded little college in Washington State (hmm?) to earn her master's degree, having already gotten a bachelor's from night school in her "spare time" (I just got a four-year degree. It took me four and a half years. Methinks Estella is unconvincingly perfect.) The first person she meets is a plucky ginger named Scott, who has a crush on her. It is clear that Estella, while wishing for friends, shows disdain for other people, and knows that they hate her because of her "different" appearance (platinum blond with "crystal" blue eyes.) However, she starts classes, and has a near disastrous encounter with Professor Edgar, a permanently 18-year-old college professor.

Estella and Scott form a fairly convincing friendship, while Estella tries to get closer to Edgar. Estella fixes Scott up with someone who is giggly and really doesn't act like she's in grad school. In a rather sudden turn of events, Edgar and Estella fall in love and Estella begins to learn more about who she is. At the end, Estella, Edgar, and a character named Sam face off against a particularly nasty villain who is nasty for apparently the heck of it. The story concludes and leaves open the option for a sequel.

This book had promise. The concept of Edgar and Estella's magical-ness (hint: they're immortal) and the lack of vampires was pretty refreshing. Some of the dialogue was decent, and the descriptions of the setting (Washington State, and it never rains once either) are quite detailed. Despite the promise, though, the book reads like a first draft. There's a lot wrong with it, and Ebner just wasn't careful enough.

Feather was written in first-person perspective. First-person is an interesting way to write, because it can be used like a diary entry or a memoir (Princess Ben is a good, and funny, example of this use of first-person.) In Feather, Estella describes herself several times (hint: don't do this in your writing.) She rolls her eyes at her friends, ignores professors' lectures when they're boring, says lots of things "sarcastically" and "angrily," and basically gives you a play-by-play of her facial expressions. She even goes so far as to describe herself as perfect.

The secondary characters in this book are very flat. Scott and Sarah, Estella's friends, are always plucky, giggly, and clueless (according to Estella.) The nurse in the book has a "slight British" accent. (I couldn't decide what Ebner meant, so I just imagined Mrs. Doubtfire.) The main villain seems to have no motivation other than destroying the world so he can have all of its energy. All of the other college students don't apparently like Estella because of her perfect looks and the fact that she sticks out like a sore thumb (she's pale with white blond hair, as she reminds us many times.) In short, no one at this grad school acts like they are 22 years old. Lots of granola and tofu are consumed in the cafeteria, and everyone wears sandals and has a tan.

I will have a more detailed analysis of this book later. I may have to do it in parts to keep the posts from getting too long, but I'll go deeper into every problem that I saw. Don't worry, I'll also go over the good stuff, because this book does have some good things in it.

Bottom line is...Feather had a lot of promise. But with the lazy editing (Ebner runs her own publishing company, Crimson Oak Publishing, and turns out a surprising amount of books every year), inconsistencies, and character problems, Feather is missing some things. If you want to read some of it, here's the Google Books entry for the first book in the series. Take a look, read some, gather your thoughts, and then I'll move on to the analysis of the book. My personal opinion? With a professional editor, agent, and publishing house behind her, Abra Ebner could have turned out a really great story, but Feather falls short of its promise.

I'll be back soon with an entry on stereotypes and generalizations, and how to avoid them. Stay tuned!