Wednesday, September 12, 2018

When They Turn

Oh man, I am super excited to announce that my new horror novelette, When They Turn: The Miller Massacre has been released on Amazon!

When They Turn is the story of Debbie, an unhappy housewife living in the suburbs of 1950's America.  Obsessed with keeping up appearances and living in constant fear of the bomb, she never sees what's coming.

When all the men in town seemingly go murderously insane, it's up to Debbie and her friends to fight for their own survival and escape the town of Miller, before their husbands get the best of them.

This gristly novelette will keep you turning the pages, if only to see who will survive the Miller massacre.  


The Story Behind the Story


Okay, so those of you who follow me on Twitter or Twitch may remember that I participated in the 3 Day Novel Contest over Labor Day weekend this year.

I'll admit right now, I only lasted the first two days, writing over 10,000 words in something like eighteen hours of live streaming.  It was a pretty grueling undertaking, but what came out of it was a novelette I lovingly called Murder, Mayhem and Meatloaf.

Yeah, the title didn't stick.  I was worried people might think it was some kind of 50's cozy mystery, so I went back to the drawing board on that one.  The novelette, however, stayed strong.  I was going to stick it in a drawer until I'd finished the Third Shift series, but I started editing it anyway.

As tends to be the case with a lot of my concepts, the idea of 50's housewives facing off against zombie hordes (or similar, as the case may be) had been knocking around in my head for a while, pretty much ever since I saw some pieces by Kelly Reemsten.  She has this amazing series of paintings of women from the shoulders down in party dresses, holding sledgehammers or chainsaws.  They really set my imagination going.

It was strange though, I set out to write a stylish horror story, maybe a little tongue-in-cheek, like Cthulhu's Car Park, but what I ended up with was much more dark and serious.  It may have been the manner in which it was written, the fact that there was a lot of strain and pressure during the creative process, but I found it very emotionally draining.  I even gave myself nightmares, which hadn't really happened before.  In short, writing When They Turn was a trip.

I now find myself thinking about continuing the project beyond the scope of this novelette, but if I do, it probably won't be right away, unless you guys really like it, in which case, I'll definitely give it some more consideration.

Anyway, When They Turn: The Miller Massacre is available now on Amazon, and free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Today's the Big Day!

It is an honor to announce that my first novella, Cthulhu's Car Park is live on Amazon.  As of this post, it's available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers for free, so you can download it and check it out with no risk.  How awesome is that?

Thought I would take a second to talk about my book and why it's so important to me.

Where did this book come from?

Okay, so for about three years, I worked as a parking attendant in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Considering we were still dealing with the recession and that I didn't have a college degree, it was a pretty well-paying gig.

For those of you not familiar, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, which is a pretty large college known for its sports teams, particularly football.  Wolverine Stadium is one of the largest non-NFL stadiums in the country.  So this meant I was dealing with a lot of college students.

The company I worked for was pretty okay for the most part.  Everyone outside of management was in the union, so there tended to be some animosity sometimes, but overall, it was like a big extended family.  This came with some problems as well though.  Like gossip and backstabbing.  Gossip was a huge part of the parking attendant day.  My husband also worked there, and it seemed like, when we got home, all we seemed to talk about was people at work.

There were also asinine  rules, management changes, horrible customers, just crazy things happening.  We probably got one or two suicides a year and a major customer-related incident once a week.

Before I started working there, I had no idea there was so much drama and craziness involved.  Working in a parking lot can be a lot more interesting than people assume, I think.  A lot of the incidents I include in this book are fictionalized versions of real events.

The idea of monsters emerging from the basement of the parking garage came from the fact that my regular garage really did have a mysterious covered hole in the basement, and it always creeped me out.  The basement was pretty much just as I described it in the book, and I've always had problems with dealing with dark, underground places, so the cistern being there just made my imagination go wild.  Sometimes, I would entertain myself by imagining what would happen if monsters really did live down there and decided to slither out.

When my husband and I had our son, I quit that job and became a stay at home mom, but the memories I had from working there, some of them good, some of them bad, stayed with me.

Why this book?

That, I really can't tell you.  Seriously.  Before I wrote Cthulhu's Car Park, I was trying to write a completely different book in a totally separate genre, one I've been thinking about for over a decade.
  And I did write it.  I was actually deep into editing my first draft when I decided to take what I thought was a break.

I wrote the first page and realized that I hadn't been having fun writing in a long time.  I told myself, "Okay, I work on this a little more, since I'm having such a good time with it."  And it just got away from me after that.  I'd talked to my husband about writing something like this, a short story maybe, to capture our work stories, and because it was an idea kicking around my head for years, but it just took off.

How did this book happen?

My husband, who illustrated the book for me, by the way, was getting frustrated that I seemed to be spending all this time writing with no results (you know, aside from the rough draft of a novel that might never see the light of day) so he suggested that I set a deadline and just finish the thing.

Amazon offers a program to its self-published authors, allowing 90 day preorders, so I decided I would go whole hog and set up my novel as an eBook, giving myself those 90 days to write, edit, format it and produce a cover.

It worked for me, but I really don't recommend you do this unless you work well under pressure.  One of the big risks is that if you set up a preorder with Amazon and fail to deliver, you lose your preorder privileges for something like a year I believe.  If you want to make a living writing, that can be some serious skin in the game to get your product out on time.

So, with that fire lit under my butt, I got down to work, probably better than I ever have before.  I think I started the eBook in early June and was close to halfway done by mid-July.  Then, my husband and I watched a documentary about H.P. Lovecraft, and I thought, Wouldn't it be cool if we released the book on his birthday?
Yeah.  I'm crazy.  Having cut my work time by something like two weeks, I scrambled to finish it by August 20th.  I designed the cover, I wrote the story, I proofread it, I edited it with feedback, my husband drew the monsters (and some awesome extras we hope to release soon) and we produced a book in something like a month and a half.

And if this wasn't crazy enough, I set up a preorder for the sequel, Last Cull, a couple of days before this first book came out, so that's due in November, if we don't finish it sooner than that.

I would describe this process as unusual, but I found I really needed a hard deadline to keep me motivated.

What did I learn?

Dude, I learned so much.

On the technical side, I learned how Amazon and their publishing arm work, I learned the limitations of eBooks and how to format them correctly, I finally learned not to be afraid of CSS and brushed off my HTML skills from decades ago.

I also learned how much work it is to produce a novel, even a short one, on your own.  And now, I'm in the process of learning how to market it, which is a whole new adventure.

On a more personal level, I figured out a bit more about how I tick, what motivates me and makes me work harder and more efficiently, and most importantly, that I can do what I've dreamed pretty much my whole life of doing.

What am I doing next?

My next project is Last Cull, which as I said, is due in November.  I also have a short story that's been knocking around for a year or so, I'm going to try to crank out either before or right after.

I'm hoping to go to some writing conventions as well, but there are no solid plans for that at this time.

If you want to keep track of me, I have a handy newsletter, sending updates straight to your email.

Finding a copy or more information

Cthulhu's Car Park is currently only available as a Kindle edition and exclusively through Amazon.  I hope to release a paperback in the next few months, and if things go well, I'll be releasing it to other platforms in the next year or so.

You can find out more about it at Amazon, or Goodreads.  You can also find it on BookBub.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer


I'd heard some good things about this book from other writers whose work I really enjoy, so when the Tor monthly book club put it up for download, I was totally stoked. Let me just say, it was a weird, wild ride.

Synopsis


Too Like the Lightning is a science fiction novel, set in the 25th century, but written more in the style of the 18th. It’s narrated by and told from the point of view of Mycroft Canner, with the occasional interruption or interviews from other characters.

If you asked Mycroft what the novel is about, he would tell you that it is about a thirteen-year-old boy named Bridger who possesses an incredible and mysterious power, and how he helped shaped the world as we know it (in the future beyond the book’s 25th century setting). If you asked literally anyone else, they’d probably tell you the story is a mystery involving the theft of a devious device and an article listing the world’s most influential people, and what that meant for the world of the future.


Along side the story of this miracle child and the mysterious theft and frame-job, there is some fantastic world building in this novel. Also sex, philosophy and murder. It’s really a mixed bag, as are my feelings about it.


What a World


Okay, so my absolute favorite aspect of this story is the world building. Ada Palmer does this masterful job of interweaving history, culture, politics, economics, everything, with her story. We quickly learn that five hundred years into the future, flying cars with the ability to circumvent the world in four hours have eliminated mankind’s need of countries and borders. A person living in Rio de Janeiro might very easily work in Prague and then go have dinner in Shanghai. The technology behind this way of life is incredibly important and heavily guarded and plays a huge part in the story.


The other thing we learn almost immediately, is that religion is now illegal. Well, not so much religion as discussing religion in a group, or proselytizing. Civilization as the book knows it feels that faith is not a bad thing, but religion is highly dangerous. To allow people to work out their feelings about a creator, or an afterlife, or what have you, a group of licensed priest-like specialists called sensayers exist, and go around discuss people’s religious feelings.


“’Humanity cannot live without these questions! Let us create a new creature! Not a preacher, but a teacher, who hears a parishioner’s questions and presents the answers of all the faiths and sects of history, Christians and pagans, Muslims and atheists, all equal. With this new creature as his guide, let each man pick through the fruits of all theologies and anti-theologies, and make from them his own system, to test, improve, and lean on all the years of his long life. If early opponents of the Christian Reformation feared that Protestants would invent as many Christianities as there were Christians, let this new creature help us create as many religions as there are human beings!’” 
Ada Palmer. Too Like the Lightning (Kindle Locations 151-155). Tom Doherty Associates.
Another aspect of this future that is really fun is that while countries and religions don’t mean much anymore, there are still nations after a fashion, and universal laws that state that when children pass into adulthood they have the right to choose in which they would like to belong. One of the first we’re introduced to is the Humanists. This group is described as being focused on human achievement. They tend to be athletes and part of their culture is to have a part of their home decorated to display all the awards and trophies they’ve earned. They also prize the Olympics, which are still going strong.


The other groups are based off of either their historical geographical locations (nation-strats) like the Mitsubishi (the Asian nation-strats) or Europe, or they were an organization that became a nation, such as the Masons, based off of today’s masonic traditions or the Cousins, which started as a network to allow female backpackers to find safe places to stay. There’s also the Brillists, who are obsessed with measuring personality and intelligence and the Utopians, whose major goal is to colonize Mars.


The world building is intensely rich! Each of these groups have their own traditions and cultures and politics and they all intermingle, creating this colorful tapestry of a backdrop for a pretty epic story.

Our Narrator


Mycroft on his own is a pretty interesting character. He unfolds the details of the story (and his own) very slowly, and we soon see that he’s involved in pretty much everything going with the world’s movers and shakers, but at the same time, is also down in the streets. You see, not to spoil too much, Mycroft is a criminal, serving a life sentence of being what is pretty much a slave to the people.

"Tell me, when our Twenty-Second-Century forefathers created the Servicer Program, offering lifelong community service in lieu of prison for criminals judged harmless enough to walk among the free, were they progressive or retrogressive in implementing a seven-hundred-year-old system which had never actually existed?" 
Ada Palmer. Too Like the Lightning (Kindle Locations 376-378). Tom Doherty Associates.

 
Despite his criminal status, Mycroft appears to be on call to all the world’s leaders and involved in some major historical moments, like a more intelligent Forrest Gump. The few incidents taking place elsewhere are reported on by an associate of Mycroft’s or he tells us what he learns by interviewing the people he knows who witnessed whatever. It’s all an intriguing, albeit sometimes unbelievable frame for the narrative.


The part I really find interesting about Mycroft, I can’t even begin to talk about for fear of ruining things for those who haven’t read this book yet. All I can say is that his crime and the motives behind it are both a trip and a bit of a mystery.


His and Hers (More Like Theirs)


Okay, now we near an aspect of the book that I found both interesting and frustrating. In this future, gender is kind of a personal thing, seemingly reserved for intimate, sexual situations, if at all. What do I mean? I mean that not only are characters generally referred to by gender neutral pronouns, but when gendered pronouns do come up, they’re accompanied by this attitude that this is somehow lewd or taboo. The gender neutrality also helps explain and flavor a lot in the late chapters of the book, which is kind of cool. It’s an interesting aspect of the culture, but then you get Mycroft, being a bit impish now and again, gendering characters as he sees fit, rather than how you and I might (according to sexual organs or personal preference).

"With Chagatai, however, your guess is wrong. It is not her job which makes me give her the feminine pronoun, despite her testicles and chromosomes. I saw her once when someone threatened her little nephew, and the primal savagery with which those thick hands shattered the offender was unmistakably that legendary strength which lionesses, she-wolves, she-bats, she-doves, and all other ‘she’s obtain when motherhood berserks them. That strength wins her ‘she.’"
Ada Palmer. Too Like the Lightning (Kindle Locations 4567-4571). Tom Doherty Associates.


This became a little frustrating to me, particularly when I didn’t always want to go off on a tangent about a character’s gender, but continue with the story. Carlyle, the sensayer is another character Mycroft drops hints about, refering to them as a “he” but suggesting that this person is biologically female. I don’t particularly care what Carlyle or Chagatai or anyone else is hiding under their skirt so long as we on with what’s happening.


I find the gender neutrality and the other things that go on with gender interesting, but how Mycroft treats it sometimes is exhausting, and just feels witty for wit’s sake… 


I will totally admit that my frustrations with this book probably stem from the fact that it’s been a while since I’ve read anything this challenging, so while I might find some things annoying, people smarter than me might enjoy them.


Elementary, My Dear Watson


Another aspect that sort of bothered me is that toward the end of the book, certain things are just blatantly revealed with few clues or foreshadowing. I don’t like this sort of thing in mysteries, preferring the ones that show you all the information up front, allowing you the chance to guess correctly, if at all. Too Like the Lightning is a bit of a wild ride, which aspects of the story suddenly coming to the fore with no warning. This can be both exciting and feel like a cheat. I can’t really get into what bothered me because it would be chock full of spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.
And now, my least favorite part of this book:

Bridger…


As I mentioned before, Bridger is who this story is supposedly about, but it’s more about pretty much everyone else. Bridger is a little boy with an amazing, miraculous power. You find out about this power very early on, and about Mycroft’s relationship with the boy, but seriously, the kid’s probably in less than ten percent of the book and most of the stuff that goes on has nothing to do with him.


This is not the problem I have. The problem I have is that Bridger is like an infant, but he’s thirteen. I mean, not exactly like an infant, but he doesn’t come off as a teenager either. Maybe a very young child. But then, on the other hand, he’s got a deep understanding of classical philosophy and has seen some pretty disturbing things, yet appears to be mature and as well-adjusted as is to be expected about it. This dichotomy kind of brought be out of the story a bit. His character isn’t very even, which maybe is realistic? I don’t know. Either way, it bothered me a bit. I could not bring myself to get attached to the kid at all, despite his importance.

Conclusion


This is a really weird book. Like, really weird. You will be hard pressed to find something similar, and despite my frustrations with it, despite the fact reading it exhausted me, I have to recommend you at least try to experience it. If you’re interested in philosophy, particularly of the 18th century, you will probably have a great time. Palmer is actually an associate professor at the University of Chicago, so I guess it’s not surprising she’s a world-building pro.


This quote from her “About” page on her website sums up her work really well, I think.


“All my projects stem from my overall interest in the relationship between ideas and historical change. Our fundamental convictions about what is true evolve over time, so different human peoples in different times and places have, from their own perspectives, lived in radically different worlds with radically different rules.” 
Palmer, A. (n.d.). About Ada Palmer. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://adapalmer.com/about-ada-palmer/

Too Like the Lightning is the first book in Palmer's Terra Ignota series, from Tor.

Bechdel Test: Pass Maybe?

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A General Update

Cthulhu's Car Park


In what I would probably describe as a fit of insanity, I decided to bite the bullet at the beginning of
July and set up to publish a story I'd just started by September.  I was tired of waiting, tired of perfecting, and tired of my current project, so I hopped on Amazon and well...

Okay, so in another bout of insanity, I decided that I was going to cut my deadline even shorter, and shoot for August 20th, Lovecraft's birthday.

Currently, I am finishing up the first draft of the manuscript.  In the next few weeks, I'm going to edit it, get some feedback and then format and finish up the paperback cover design.  I'm doing almost all of it, aside from the illustrations, which my husband is doing.

Yeah, there's a good chance I'm crazy.

But, anyway, Cthulhu's Car Park, available for pre-order on Amazon right the heck now.  Tentative release date is now August 20th, but it's going to read September 6th ('cause I'm not totally, totally nuts yet).  It'll also be available to read for free through the Kindle Unlimited program.

Twitch


Some authors like to post videos on Youtube, talking about books and writing but that didn't really feel like my kind of thing, so instead, I've begun streaming my writing live on Twitch.

I don't have a solid schedule right now, since it's summer vacation, but I try to get on every weekday between 9 and 11 in the morning, with some nighttime and weekend streams thrown in occasionally.  I usually announce these on my Twitter account.

Patreon and Ko-fi


As you may have noticed on my sidebar, I've started a Ko-fi account.  It's pretty much an online tip-jar, in case you enjoy these blog posts, or anything else I happen to be doing.  Obviously, tips are never required, but always welcome.  I would love to be able to afford a better cover for my book, or professional paperback formatting, or hey, even to turn my Netflix account back on for a month.  If you feel like you want to contribute, please feel free to click that link at any time.

I've also seriously revamped my Patreon account, offering better reward tiers including suggesting books for me to review, a monthly short story, or getting help with your own writing projects.  Once I have more books out, I'll offer a few, more reader-oriented rewards.  Feel free to check it out and offer recommendations as to what you'd like to see me offer.  It's always a work in progress.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

One Last Tools Tuesday - Crowdfire


Here lies the last Tools Tuesday.  So it is, so shall it be.

Anyway, I found something so useful, I just had to dig this particular category out of the ash pile of progress.

Crowdfire


Crowdfire is probably one of the most useful tools out there for an independent creator out there.  I don't care if you write, sculpt, paint, put on radio plays, create dioramas inside shoe boxes, whatever.

Let's Break Down What It Does


Okay, so, you're a creator.  You've got an online presence, right?  You've probably got a Facebook page, an Instagram account, maybe you're also on Twitter, or Linked In or Pinterest.  That is a lot of social media to juggle, particularly if your real goal is to make art.  You don't want to spend all day posting about what you're doing, meanwhile neglecting work and well, life.

Crowdfire is going to save you a lot of time by getting you organized and helping you schedule all of those shenanigans.

It allows you to connect all of your social media accounts


Just hook up everything you've got, and Crowdfire allows you to post across all them.  Want to boost a friend's signal?  Post on Twitter, FB, Instagram, what have you, all at the press of a button.  You can even tweak your messages for each platform before you send everything out.

You can even attach the platforms where you post your work.  Youtube, Twitch and Blogger are just a few, and it makes it incredibly easy to share your content.

Set it and forget it


Another way Crowdfire is a massive time saver is that you can schedule all of your posts ahead of time and it will automatically send stuff for you.  You can decide how many posts you want it to make a day (the basic setting is two per platform), and you can pile up a pretty big number of posts before you hit a pay wall.  I have my Twitter and FB accounts hooked up and I can queue about 40 posts for free.  That's ten days worth of queued content.

It just knows...


When is the best time to post something on FB?  When are you going to get the highest traffic on Twitter?  Crowdfire knows, and you can set it to post your updates at all the best times.  I've seen a serious increase in engagement since I started letting it determine the best times to post.

Running out of ideas?


When you sign up, Crowdfire asks about your interests.  It then crawls the web looking for relevant content for you to share from a number of different sources, which you can customize.  It provides a huge list of articles you can use to fill up your queue and keep your audience engaged with when you don't have anything to say yourself.  This can be a total life saver when trying to keep a regular posting schedule going.

It keeps track!


Crowdfire will also keep track of your post engagement, how many followers you get and how many you lose.  You'll get a digest in your email about your social media activity. 

Another sneaky-awesome feature, is that you can check out other users follower lists.  Let's say you write books, and you know another author who writes in the same genre.  You can see who their followers are and follow them to get follow-backs, or see what they're talking about.

Conclusion


I can't express how much time and energy Crowdfire has been saving me.  I use it enough I'm thinking about upgrading to the subscription service, which allows you to connect and post to multiple accounts on each platform and provides enhanced tracking and content tools.

Please, check it out if you're feeling overwhelmed by the whole marketing/social media aspect of being an independent creative.  It will be a big weight off your shoulders, and even the free version is incredibly powerful.

Friday, July 20, 2018

All Systems Red by Martha Wells


This one is one of my favorites. Normally, I try to be pretty objective, but I’m probably going to fan-girl all over the place for this review. Sorry, not sorry. If you enjoy dry, rather dark humor, you will love this.


Synopsis



In All Systems Red, a team of surveyors must fight for survival on an alien planet when their equipment begins to glitch, and they realize they might not have received all the intel they needed. Lucky for them, they have SecUnit, a humanoid construct programmed to protect them. Unlucky for them, their SecUnit is a rogue murderbot who wants nothing more than to be left along to watch its serials in peace.\

(Just a note, I'm going to be putting a bunch of Micheal Fassbender stuff up because thanks to Prometheus I just kept imagining a David-like Murderbot.  Enjoy!)

Meet Murderbot

I COULD HAVE BECOME a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites.
Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 19-20). Tor.com.


That, plus a massive case of social anxiety, pretty much sums up our protagonist, a rogue SecUnit which refers to itself as a murderbot. Murderbot has problems dealing with humans, describing these interactions as “awkward.”


It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me. I know I’m a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes both of us nervous, which makes me even more nervous.


Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 129-130). Tor.com.


Murderbot is highly apathetic about pretty much everything except the entertainment feeds. Initially, it doesn’t care about much beyond its contract requirements and keeping the fact that it hacked itself a secret. Well, that, and keeping its armor on so it doesn’t have to deal with the humans directly. Murderbot is almost crippled by shyness and social anxiety, not wanting to make direct eye contact with pretty much anyone. Murderbot is very sensitive about this. Needless to stay, when the chips are down and it has to start acting like a real SecUnit, it is highly enjoyable.


Girl Meets Bot



Dr. Mensah is the leader of this particular surveyor team, and she seems to click with Murderbot pretty quickly. It’s really fun watching the two of them interact. I’d say this is one of my favorite odd couples of sci-fi. Watching Murderbot develop and change as it interacts with the rest of the crew is pretty amusing too. Not everyone is cool with it, particularly given Murderbot’s dark and tragic past, but it’s really rather heartwarming, watching it start to come out of its shell (or armor).
I told my helmet to retract so he could see my human face. If the hostile came back and bit me again, this would be a bad mistake, because I did need the organic parts of my head.
Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 49-50). Tor.com.



As Murderbot and Dr. Mensah start to form a bond of trust, we learn more about the mission to the mysterious planet, and what the stakes really are.

Beware; You Will Laugh Out Loud

I was seriously cracking up sometimes, reading this novella. It’s very dry, but very funny. Murderbot has a unique sense of humor that will endear it to you quickly, though I can’t really explain the genius
of the comedy that goes on.
I have small energy weapons built into both arms, but the one I went for was the big projectile weapon clamped to my back. The hostile that had just exploded up out of the ground had a really big mouth, so I felt I needed a really big gun.
Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 36-38). Tor.com.  


It's sort of strange, that a book about a robot, which is supposed to be an unfeeling machine, can touch every emotion you have.  A lot of it is funny, but there are some dark and very touching moments too.  And the ending is great, mainly because it leads to more adventures for Murderbot in the future.

Bechdel Test: Pass

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Changes to Book Review Friday

Hey guys, just wanted to announce that this upcoming post is going to be the last Book Review Friday in what might be a long time!

This doesn't mean that I won't continue to do book reviews, but they will no longer take place strictly on Fridays.  I will also continue to try to get at least a couple reviews out a month, but in some cases, books can take a while to read and digest.  However, because I won't have such a tight review schedule, you can expect more detailed and thought out articles in the future.

Anyway, just wanted to give everyone a heads up.  I hope you enjoy my upcoming review of Mary Wells' All Systems Red, and keep reading with me.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Announcing My New Novella

I am happy to announce that my new horror novella, Cthulhu's Car Park, is available for pre-order over at Amazon.  At the moment, it's only going to be available as a Kindle eBook, but I'm hoping to have a paperback ready to go in the near future.  It's set to release on September 6, 2018, but it may come out sooner than that.

-x-

Cthulhu's Car Park is about Sam, a parking lot attendant on the edge of burning out.  Her job is monotonous, the customers are rude and management is out of touch.

One night, while going to clean up yet another puddle of puke, Sam discovers something evil in the basement of the parking garage.

Armed with a golf club, some pluck and a handful of co-workers, Sam realizes she needs to face down something sinister and mind-blowingly massive and save the city, if not the world.


-x-

So, this story is loosely autobiographical, though heavily fictionalized.  I tried to draw from my experiences as a parking garage attendant to give the more realistic parts of the story a bit more detail.  I also tried to capture the culture of that particular job, so there's definitely some strong language present.

And while it's a horror story, it's not overly gory, or intensely scary.  I'm trying to entertain, not scare you into sleeping with the lights on. 

It doesn't adhere to the Lovecraftian mythos very strictly either.  I took some tropes from his work and work related and extrapolated them, so please don't go in thinking this is going to be cannon.  It's meant to be fun.  An idea I kicked around while dealing with a real, creepy parking garage basement and an incredibly boring job.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Dragon School: First Flight by Sarah K. L. Wilson


This is definitely one for a younger crowd, so keep that in mind as you read my review.  Frankly, if I was in high school, I'd probably have eaten this up.  It's quick, it checks all the boxes; excitement, romance, proving worth against bullies.  I could describe it as if Harry Potter and Divergent had a baby, which was into dragons, but you could read it in an hour and it probably wouldn't appeal much to adults.

(Sorry the review is so short, it's more of a novella, really.)

Synopsis


In Dragon School: First Flight, Amel Leafbrought wants to make her dreams come true.  She wants to
become a Dragon Rider and change her fate.  Her problem?  Aside from coming from a poor family, a childhood accident left her crippled.

Despite massive adversity, the beginning of the book finds her in Dragon School, about to choose a dragon mount and begin learning how to be a dragon rider.


Pluck in the Face of Jerks


Plucky is absolutely the first word that comes to mind when I think of Amel.  As a child, her hip was crushed, so she's grown up needing a crutch to get around.  This makes her a huge burden on her family, so she decides to leave them and go become a Dragon Rider.  This is... okay I guess.  I mean, it seems odd to me that she doesn't think she can live a normal peasant life, but can be a badass warrior, doing something that is incredibly physically demanding.  This might have been easier to swallow if we knew her inspiration to take on such an impossible task.  I assume it comes up in a later book.

Lucky for Amel, Dragon School can't turn any volunteer away, no matter what.  But, of course, nobody expects her to succeed and there is a bit of bullying directed at her.  Plus, nobody really wants to talk to her because the assumption is that she's going to be one of the first to die during the process of initiation.  So, Amel goes through much of the book having to deal with having no friends.  Oh, and also ladders.  Nothing like a person with a bum leg having to climb a heck of a lot of ladders, but Dragon School is pretty much located in a cliff, so...

There Are Some Issues


This is a first book in the series, so it's not surprising there are a few rough spots.  Amel seems to have trouble understanding some basic concepts.  She comes to Dragon School knowing that many trainees and recruits die.  People talk about it all the time.  Then, she is genuinely shocked that parts of Dragon School, like taking care of dragons, riding dragons, etcetera, are dangerous.  She also doesn't seem to understand that whether she bonds with a dragon or not, neither of them are going to have freedom from their obligations, despite this too being repeated over and over by various parties.

The whole idea of Dragon School is also a bit shaky.  Wild dragons are, well, wild and likely to tare your arm off.  Dragons bred in captivity are docile and will let anyone handle them.  But new recruits are meant to learn how to ride the wild ones.  This makes no sense from a logical standpoint.  Also, Dragon School is the result of a treaty between man and dragon, but I really don't see what the dragons get out of it, since they're quintessentially enslaved.

There's some weak character development as well and a rather awkward heel-turn toward the end of the book.  I think part of the problem is that it's so short it's hard to really get a handle on the characters.  This probably isn't as much of a problem if you continue with the series.  I may check out a few more books in the series, since as of today they are all available on Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program.

My Overall Impression


I think a younger audience will really like this series, particularly girls.  There's a nice little romance brewing already, which absolutely screams Divergent.  I don't think I'd recommend this to most adults, but if you really like Young Adult Fantasy, you'll probably want to check it out.

Bechdel Test: Pass

Friday, June 08, 2018

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


Let me just start by saying I ate this book up.  I thought the beginning was a little slow, but the pace picked up pretty quickly and then it was very hard to put down.  I am incredibly excited to get my hands on the other two books in the trilogy, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy or fairy tales.

Synopsis


The Bear and the Nightingale is a fantasy novel set in medieval Russia. It centers around Vasya, a girl of noble birth, who over the course of the novel, grows to womanhood. Unlike most women, Vasya can see things others cannot, the cheyrti or spirits of Russian folklore. She spends her childhood observing the old customs and befriending the household spirits and those who live in the forest around her father’s house.

With the arrival of her very religious stepmother, and the priest, Father Konstantine, Vasya finds her life quickly changing. Father Konstantine chides her people for believing in spirits, and the attitude of the local village shifts toward Christianity over paganism. With this shift come disaster after disaster. Meanwhile, Vasya’s talent has caught the attention of powerful magical beings, and a war of epic proportions begins to brew.

Feminism in the Medieval Era


One of the things that really struck me about this novel was the strong feminist message. Vasya is not a princess, waiting to be rescued, or falling under an enchantment, she’s a real heroine, brave and independent. Unfortunately for her, the era in which she lives doesn’t put up with that sort of thing. A constant theme in the narrative is that women of high birth have two choices in her world; marriage or convent life. Her sisters, Olga and Irina have no problem with this, Olga is happily married early in the novel, and Irina is a perfect little princess. Vasya has no interest in marriage, though on some level always knew it was coming. And though she considers herself a Christian, the last thing she wants is to become a nun.

She does what she wants, and this tends to rub her family and the villagers the wrong way, nearly incurring deadly results. I won’t give anything away, but this makes the ending of the novel really enjoyable.

I felt like Arden did a really good job reflecting the other characters’ reactions to Vasya’s independence. Nobody feels the same way about it. Her father worries about her future, but at the same time sort of admires her strength. Her stepmother flat-out hates her. Her brothers both have differing opinions. And Father Konstantine, well, he’s just a hot mess about a lot of things. I really loved the depth surrounding this issue that’s sort of threaded throughout. Plus, Vasya’s refusal to accept her place in society adds an extra conflict that really raises the stakes.


The Hearth vs. the Church


One of the major themes of the novel is how the spread of Christianity in medieval Russia destroys the old traditions. Vasya is very in tune with the spirits around her, both borne of her household and nature. Anna Ivanovna, her step-mother, is the polar opposite. Since she was young, she too has been aware of the spirits, but being deeply religious, considers them demons and devils. The only respite she can find is in churches, where the spirits, or cheyrti, don’t go, so she obsesses over being pious and wants to be sent to a convent. Instead, she is married off to Pytor Vladimirovich, Vasya’s father, to hide her “madness.” She hates and fears all spirits, so her life is a rather unhappy one, full of fear and spitefulness.

Father Konstantine does not believe in cheyrti, but does believe he’s been chosen by God to save the people of Vasya’s village from themselves. He fills them with fear for their souls and drives them to stop leaving offerings for the cheyrti, with disastrous results.

Meanwhile, the Russian fairytales of old seem to become more and more real for Vasya as she grows older.

It’s very much a story of Christianity vs. Paganism.


A Taste of Something New



I love stories that take place in settings that are new to me. It makes them just that much more interesting. Arden takes loving care to depict medieval Russia accurately (as best she can) while also making the novel accessible to most readers. She tweaked a few details for dramatic effect, but you can see the effort she put in to paint a clear historical picture for her audience. Her use of Russian vocabulary is smooth, not jarring at all, and easily pronounced. As you read, social order, religion and culture unfold before you. Fantasy and sci-fi readers should have few problems acclimating to the setting. There is also a handy glossary in the back of the book. Those who do not have a strong grasp of history, or Russian culture, fear not. You will still probably enjoy this read.


Strong, Complex Characters



I really enjoyed Arden’s characters. Vasya’s family all have their own fears and motivations and opinions, as do literally everyone else, down to Oleg, the servant. Arden’s skills with characterization and letting you get a feel for people are quickly are very strong. As soon as I’d finished The Bear, I wanted to read on just to find out what happens to Vasya and her family. Since the first novel in the Winternight trilogy stands alone, I really have no idea where the next story is going to take me.

Watching Father Konstantine change and reveal his true self was probably one of the more interesting aspects of the book, whatever you might feel about him by the end, he is an engaging character full of internal conflict. Watching Vasya’s relationships change as she grew older and her talents became stronger was a nice counternote to the almost constant wonder I felt watching the action of the story progress.


It Has a Little Bit of Everything



So, we’ve got a bit of a traditional fantastical medieval setting. There’s magic, there’s nobility, warriors, monsters. You also get some political intrigue and a dash of family drama. Oh, and horror. And a touch of romance. And a fun little subversion of Chekov’s gun for the reading writers out there.

What really appealed to me was the romance and the world-building.  The romance because, well, I like a little bit of a love story, but not too much?  I don't want it to upstage the rest of the narrative, but it needs to leave me wanting more at the same time.  It's a difficult balancing act, but I feel like this book really nails it.  The "love story" aspect doesn't really start until the last third of the book, but it was absolutely worth the wait.



A Very Few Caveats, Dear Reader


This book includes:

-Some non-graphic sexual assault

-Non-graphic child death

-Somewhat graphic animal death

Friday, April 20, 2018

Jade City by Fonda Lee


Fonda Lee's Jade City centers around a
fictional island country called Kekon and specifically around the Kaul family, the head of a Green Bone crime syndicate called No Peak.  Green Bones are people who have been specially trained from a young age to handle jade specifically mined from the island.  This special jade gives them super human powers, which they use to fight each other and essentially run things.

Meet the Kauls


At the head of the family, you've got Lan Kaul.  He's fairly new to the position of "Pillar" and is a bit more modern and soft-hearted than his grandfather and father before him.  He carries a lot of jade and the weight of the family on his calm shoulders, until scuffles between No Peak and a rival gang, the Mountain create complications.
Photo by Thana Gu on Unsplash
Next in power is Hilo, Lan's younger, hot-headed brother.  Hilo was born to be the Horn, or general, of No Peak, having been all about fighting from a very young age.  He rolls around town with the Maik brothers, a pair of fighters with a troubled family background.

And last is Shae, the prodigal sister, who left Kekon to go to school in Espenia and ended up marrying an Espenian man, much to the disappointment of her family, especially her grandfather.  She finds herself divorced, moving back to Kekon, but wanting to keep her distance from the family business.

There's also Anden, an adopted son of the Kauls who faces the added challenge of having the heightened jade sensitivity of a foreigner while training to become a Green Bone.

The World of Janloon


Okay, let me fan girl for a second here.  Lee creates this amazing world just, deftly.  There's exposition, but most of the development happens without you even noticing.  You're just totally immersed in the story, which is braided with culture, history, mythology, it's got everything.  By the end of the novel, Janloon City and everything else feels real.
A while back she posted a great thread on twitter, which you can read here, but I think the key post was this one:

This really does give the reader way more opportunity to suck up setting without being overwhelmed.


A New Magic System


Photo by Hanny Naibaho on UnsplashJade magic is a lot of fun.  I'll break it down a bit for you.  Okay, so only the people of Kekon can "easily" wear jade.  I say "easily" because even Kekonese people need to train from a young age to be able to handle it.  Most other people touch it and lose their minds, or get "the itches" which usually involves a slow and painful death or suicide.  Wear too much jade?  You get sick.  And some people are just naturally inclined toward jade overdose, so it's a tricky rope to walk for many.  Normal people who come in contact sometimes become jade obsessed.
A really fun part about this magic system is how ingrained it is in Kekonese culture.  There's a whole religion built around it, but this religion doesn't take center stage.
"Each sat cross-legged with hands resting on the top of a mounted jade orb the size of a small bowling ball. To be in contact with so much jade … Shae was reminded of the boulders she’d seen at the mine pit, the mad temptation to put her hand on one of them. The penitents must possess exceptional training and control. They could probably hear a fly landing on a cushion in the back of the room, or Perceive the people on the street outside, yet they were motionless, breathing slowly and steadily, their faces relaxed."
Lee, Fonda. Jade City (The Green Bone Saga) (Kindle Locations 3927-3931). Orbit. Kindle Edition. 

It's Complex


One of the things I really loved about this story is that there is no clear villain.  Everyone has their own reasons for doing what they do, and there really isn't much malice, which is refreshing.  Nobody is an altruistic hero and nobody is evil either.  By the way, this book has one of my favorite antagonists ever, Ayt Madashi.  She is the head of the opposing clan, the Mountain, and her backstory is like, Kaiser Soze-epic.  She's the adopted daughter of the old Pillar of the Mountain, but she was not the first in the line of succession, and there were doubters.  She pretty much makes short, bloody work of anyone standing in her way, but still has this cool, collected, intellectual persona.  I love it.
"He’d imagined that perhaps the Pillar of the Mountain would be a glamorous and deadly femme fatale. Or perhaps a hard-bitten she-man who exuded toughness and iron authority. Instead, she appeared ordinary, except for the spectacular amount of jade running up both her arms. Mounted in coiling silver bracelets that twined up her forearms and biceps like snakes, there must have been at least a dozen stones on each arm. So much jade, worn so unpretentiously—Green Bones had no need for any other symbols of status."
Lee, Fonda. Jade City (The Green Bone Saga) (Kindle Locations 1512-1515). Orbit. Kindle Edition. 

Conclusion


Holy crap, read this book.  If you like kung fu, magic, mob stories, whatever, this book has something for just about everybody.  I love it, I'm absolutely looking forward to the sequel, which seems to be underway.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton



The Queens of Innis Lear is the story of three princesses of an island kingdom, faced with the approaching death of their father and the crowning of a new king (who can be female in this culture, just like wizards can be female).  There's the eldest and first in line, the warlike Gaela, who's dream is to have more power and a bigger army, there's Regan, the middle daughter, who believes in the old religion, and there's Elia, the youngest and favorite of their father, who has no pretensions to the crown, but wants to be what is essentially an astrologer.

All three receive a letter from the king, summoning them to appear so he can set things right, as he has seen in the stars.


There are other things going on as well.  On the mainland there is a man called the Fox.  He was born a bastard on Innis Lear, but serves the king of Aremoria on the mainland.  He has a history with Elia, whom his king is courting.  A summons for the king of Aremoria may prove to be a reunion of sorts for the Fox and the youngest princess.



Perspective is Important

One of the things I immediately noticed and appreciated is that Gratton is playing with perspective.  Elia is the first princess whose point of view we get to experience.  Perhaps due to the fact that she's the youngest, she personifies her sisters as bullies and believes neither of them care for her.

Regan does want some of the power of the crown, but it seems like more for her husband than herself.  She is busy trying to conceive a child, and doesn't think much about Elia at all it seems.

Gaela's got some rage going on.  She wants to express this through battle and war, which is part of why she looks forward to being king; once she gets the crown, she'll be able to cultivate enemies outside of Innis Lear, rather than picking a fight with her sister's duchy.  She hates her husband, but needs him (I think this is where a bit of her rage comes from).  She seems to see Regan as her true partner, rather than the old man she married.

All of their opinions of their deceased mother are both interesting and unique.  It's just sort of awesome how Gratton gets us to pay attention to what the characters think of themselves vs. what others think of them.


Greetings from Innis Lear

Oh my god, guys, the world building!
The prologue is pretty solid exposition, which can be tough to pull off, but Gratton manages, revealing the natural and cultural histories of her island kingdom to the reader.  There are a couple of religions going, one earthy, centering around trees and roots and spring wells, the other focusing on the stars and what can be divined from their positions.

The current king of Innis Lear has broken with the tradition of the trees and capped the many wells across his kingdom which contain root water, a substance considered sacred by worshipers of the more earthy of the religions.  Needless to say, there is some unrest about this.



Epic Fantasy, Multiple POVs

I'd describe it as a Game of Thrones for those looking for a more PG13 experience rather than the R-rated novel series or the sometimes X-rated HBO series.  You've got romance, political intrigue, plotting, multiple factions, wars spanning continents, magic.  I'd definitely recommend picking it up if you're looking for books to tide you over until the next installment comes out.


 And Let's Not Forget

It's a story that obviously takes some inspiration from Shakespear's King Lear, so if you enjoyed that, you might like this revisioning of a rift between daughters of an aging king.

Bechdel Test: Pass
Links: Amazon, Goodreads, Tor


Thursday, March 08, 2018

Something I Just Realized About the Little Mermaid

Okay, so here's something I was thinking of yesterday, and it wouldn't surprise me if you already knew this, but Disney's The Little Mermaid has a horrific message, like, really bad.  I was thinking this, because I've been starting to expose my toddler to a lot of the cartoons I grew up with, including The Little Mermaid, but up until now, I didn't think very deeply about it.  So, now, I'm going to break it down for you, and include a little history lesson.

The Original


I'm guessing most Americans my age have had much more exposure to the Disney reimagining of The Little Mermaid, rather than the original Hans Christian Anderson fairytale.  Let me lay this down right now, HCA was a devoted Christian, and unfortunately, that's pretty much all of what his stories are about.  His idea of a happy ending is killing off his characters (sometimes horribly) and letting them go to heaven.  The Little Mermaid is no different.

See, here's the thing; the mermaid wants to be human, right?  But not for the reasons you think.  She wants to be human because mermaids don't have souls.
"Why have not we immortal souls?" asked the little mermaid, mournfully. "I would gladly give all the hundreds of years that I have to live, to be a human being only for one day and to have the hope of knowing the happiness of that glorious world above the stars."
Andersen, Hans. Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales (The Complete Collection) (Kindle Locations 8052-8055). Kindle Edition.
She's interested in humans, she's met and rescued the prince at this point, but what she really wants, is to go to heaven like the humans do.  Because HCA was a raging believer.  Oh, and hey, there's a way around that whole, mermaids don't have souls thing;
"No," said the old woman; "unless a man should love you so much that you were more to him than his father or his mother, and if all his thoughts and all his love were fixed upon you, and the priest placed his right hand in yours, and he promised to be true to you here and hereafter—then his soul would glide into your body, and you would obtain a share in the future happiness of mankind. He would give to you a soul and retain his own as well; but this can never happen.
Andersen, Hans. Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales (The Complete Collection) (Kindle Locations 8060-8063). Kindle Edition. 

So, the little mermaid's like, "Hold my beer, Grandma," makes a deal with the Sea Witch and becomes human, in hopes of snagging herself that handsome prince and oh, yeah, a human soul.  As with the Disney version, she loses her voice, but, there's an added bonus that her new feet suck.  Walking on them is described as incredibly painful.  But she makes it work.  Every moment with the prince seems to be agony (which he constantly fails to notice), but she goes through it anyway, because love.  And souls.  The prince, however, thinks she's awesome, but is not the girl who saved his life, so he says he can't love her or anyone else.  Until he finds another princess and is about to get married.

The night before the wedding, the mermaid is going to kill herself.  Her sisters make a huge sacrifice to set up a deal: either the little mermaid murders the prince and becomes a mermaid again, or she dies and becomes sea foam.  She chooses to die instead.  But, even though she's foam, she's offered the opportunity to be a "spirit of the air" and "earn" a soul by doing good deeds for hundreds of years.  And everyone lives (or dies) happily every after.  Yay!

Yeah, that's pretty much the theme every one of HCA's stories follow.  They almost always end with death, either tragic or otherwise, and then heaven.  I have a big book of his fairytales and they are all in that vein, pretty much.  You can see why this message is both disturbing and somewhat problematic, right?  The little mermaid sacrifices everything, only to be ignored and thrown away like garbage and she still does the right thing.  Her reward?  She gets the opportunity to serve humans until it's decided she's "earned" salvation.  I'm sorry, she decided not to murder the guy, even though it meant she would no longer exist.  Giving up her life for a man who did not love her and who treated her like a servant and ignored her pain isn't enough, and she's still gotta work for it, while he gets to go off and live happily ever after?  Uh, what?

The Disney Version

This updated retelling also has its share of messed up issues, but the biggest one, the one that really struck me, is that it pretty much says that what women have to say is pretty much never important.  I think they wanted their message to be the opposite, and I think they may have managed to convince a lot of people, parents and kids alike, that this isn't what they're saying, but it is.

Like in the original version of the story, the price for legs is Ariel's voice.  Okay sure.  At this point, I like to joke that the true message of this story is why we never allow minors to enter legal contracts without parental consent.  But, Ursula spells things out pretty well; guys don't like chicks who gab, they're mostly out to snag some arm candy, so it's not like she's going to miss it anyway.  And Ursula is evil, so the audience should see that this is a lie.  It's supposed to be a falsehood, spun to trick Ariel into signing a contract that she can't fulfill because she needs to be able to talk.  But if you pay attention, you realize, it's not.

Here's the big issue; Erik falls in love with Ariel without her saying a word.  We see them getting closer and closer to the kiss, so much so that Ursula has to throw a wrench in Ariel's romance game by showing up and bewitching Erik.  Having Ariel's voice is not enough, she needs to brainwash him as well.  And she doesn't bewitch him by telling him about herself, or sharing her opinions about, well, really anything, she does it by singing wordlessly.

The worst part, is that even when Ariel gets her voice back, there is no conversation between her and her prince.  We pretty much skip immediately to the marriage.  Keep in mind, that even before she lost her voice, they have not had a single two-way conversation of substance.

So, was Ursula wrong?  Did Ariel need her voice?  Sure, because Erik decided he wasn't going to marry anyone except the girl who saved him, but come on, he fell for her when she was mute.  Erik doesn't know Ariel, and we never see him getting to know her.  Because in this narrative, what she thinks, what she has to say, isn't important.

What Ariel has to say is never important.  Before she becomes human, her opinions and desires are
overruled by her father.  Once she gets legs, she can't even express those opinions properly.  Ariel is muted throughout the entire movie, not just the second half.  This is never rectified.  Because the moral isn't that women should have a voice, the moral is, love your man and everything will work out.  This extends itself to, what you look like and being pleasant is way more important than what might be going on in your heads, ladies.

Yeah, I know this isn't a new discovery.  Disney has been a hot mess with its messages to young women for a long time.  I guess it might just be hitting me harder now that I'm older and exposing my kids to this stuff.  At least with this new generation of (Pixar) princesses, things seem to be picking up.  One can only hope for the future...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Like what I do?

Please, show your support.
https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=34147

Or check out my other work.
https://medium.com/@dsritter