Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Raising Steam: A Review

I am a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I can still clearly remember picking up The Color of Magic and laughing as I read it. The books were witty, with interesting and funny characters, who often held up a mirror to real world situations and ethos.

So it pains me to admit that, lately, I haven’t been enjoying the Discworld books. I think my dissatisfaction began somewhere around Unseen Academicals. The tone of the books seemed to have changed. They became somewhat preachy, the characters a bit too holier-than-thou.

Alas, my dissatisfaction has reached its apex with the latest novel, Raising Steam.

The fortieth Discworld book, Raising Steam brings the Industrial Revolution to the Discworld, via the invention of the first steam-powered locomotive. It also brings a rather heavy-handed commentary on terrorism channeled through a dwarven schism.

My dissatisfaction with this book may have come in the way I read it. Unlike its predecessors I could not bring myself to sit down and read it all in one go. I had to stop, to take frequent brakes and allow my sense of irritation and disappointment to fade.

Irritation because the real world was intruding into my enjoyment via the dwarven fundamentalists and disappointment that the beloved Discworld characters seemed flat and uninteresting.

Honestly, I’m wondering just how much of this book, Sir Terry himself actually wrote. At times, it felt like I was reading something by someone trying to ape Sir Terry’s style.

Overall, Raising Steam was a disappointment. I cannot in good faith recommend it to either new Discworld readers or old fans.

In all honesty, I have to admit that this may be the last Discworld book I bother to buy.

And that realization, ladies and gentlemen, breaks my heart a little.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NaNoWriMo

Forgive my bluntness, but NaNoWriMo pisses me off.
Why?
Because it’s all about volume, it’s all about producing a certain number of words per day.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is not storytelling.
I’m not the most prolific writer in the world, but when I write something I give it some thought. I don’t just aim for a daily word count.
NaNoWriMo is all about producing 50,000 words in the month of November. 
That’s it.
That’s all it’s about.
Oh sure, some people say that it unlocks creativity when you don’t have to worry about content. But those are the same people who dump everything in their pantry into a pot on the stove and call it cooking.
It’s sloppy and cheap and the end result probably isn’t going to be that appealing.
As far as I know there’s only been one novel, writing during NaNoWriMo, that was a hit, Water for Elephants. Most of the other works produced during the event and sent off to publishers wind up in the trash.
I think the idea of a month devoted to writing is great. I just wish that the emphasis was shifted from producing a set word count to telling good stories. Regardless of whether they have a hundred or a hundred thousand words.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Woman in the Woods or How to Write a Murder Mystery

Good evening, gentle readers!
I don't think it's any secret that I write by the seat of my pants. Generally speaking, plot outlines are for other people, not for your's truly.
That said, the one time I find it genuinely helpful to plot an outline, is when I'm considering writing a mystery.
Today, I thought I would share that process with all of you.
So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

How to Write a Murder Mystery.

1) Decide who you’re going to kill. (Mrs. Haversham.)

2) Decide where you’re going to kill her. (In the forest, behind the house.)

3) What kills her? (A strong blow to the back of the head.)

4) Who killed her? (Abernathy, the groundskeeper.)

5) Why did he kill her? (Mrs. Haversham was going to expose their affair to Mrs. Abernathy.)

6) Who found the body? (Mrs. Moon.)

7) What was Mrs. Moon doing in the forest? (She was gathering mushrooms.)

8) How did she react to the body? (Shock. Surprise. She ran to Haversham Manor to get help.)

9) Who did Mrs Moon tell about the murder? (Sitwell, the butler.)

10) What did Sitwell do? (He gave Mrs. Moon a glass of wine and sent for the police.)

11) Who did the police send to investigate? (Inspector Knight)

12) What’s the first thing Inspector Knight did? (Secured the crime scene.)

13) What did Inspector Knight do next? (He spoke with Mrs. Moon.)

14) What next? (Inspector Knight spoke with Mrs. Haversham’s sister, Ms. Pool, re the murder.)

15) What next? (Inspector Knight examined Mrs. Haversham’s personal belongings.)

16) What did he find? (A love letter signed by ‘A.’)

17) What next? (The Inspector spoke with Miss Pool. She suggested ‘A’ was Archie Bogswell, a young man who was smitten with Mrs. Haversham.)

18) What next? (The Inspector visits Archie who informs him that Mrs. Haversham had a string of lovers.)

19) What next? (Knight returns to Haversham Manor and speaks with Miss Pool. She admits that Archie Bogswell was telling the truth, but she didn’t know who any of her sister’s other lovers were.)

20) What next? (Knight returns to the crime scene to find Mrs. Abernathy studying the scene. She leaves after telling him it was a shame about the murder.)

21) What next? (The Inspector returns to the station where the corner - Doctor Love - has discovered a note on the corpse asking Mrs. Haversham to meet with the writer in the forest.)

22) What next? (The next day, Knight returns to the manor. He speaks with Miss Pool and begins interviewing the servants. During the interviews he asks the subjects to sign a ledger, so that he can compare their handwriting to the handwriting of the letter.)

23) What next? (Returning to the manor the next day, Knight learns from Sitwell that the groundskeeper, whom he was due to interview that morning, apparently committed suicide.)

24) What next? (Knight goes to the Abernathy cottage where he recognized Mrs. Abernathy from their brief meeting in the woods. She explains that her husband took poison some time during the night. She found him dead that morning.)

25) What next? (Knight asks Mrs. Abernathy if her husband was having an affair with Mrs. Haversham. Mrs. Abernathy admits that he was, that she came across them in the woods behind the manor.)

26) What next? (Knight leaves, but, as he rises from his chair, he notices jars of preserves in the kitchen. The glass jars are neatly labled in Mrs. Abernathy’s handwriting which matches the handwriting of the note inviting Mrs. Haversham to the woods.)

27) What next? (Knight points out the handwriting to Mrs. Abernathy who admits that she sent the letter to Mrs. Haversham. When asked why, she says that she arranged things so the situation would become explosive, so the affair would end. That she convinced her husband - a somewhat stupid man - that Mrs. Haversham wanted to tell her something important. Her husband stormed out of the house, in a temper and, when he confronted Mrs. Haversham, killed her in a fury. Then he came home and confessed everything to Mrs. Abernathy before he killed himself.)

28) What next? (Knight returns to the manor where he recounts Mrs. Abernathy’s tale to Miss Pool. He also admits he does not believe that her husband killed himself. Firstly, because suicides leave notes and, secondly, because most men don’t kill themselves with poison. However, he has no proof to support his suspicions and so he cannot arrest Mrs. Abernathy. Miss Pool tells him she is satisfied with his actions and not to worry about Mrs. Abernathy, because although she may have slipped through earthly judgement, in the end she will have to answer for her crimes to God. Comforted by Miss Pool’s words, Inspector Knight leaves Haversham Manor.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

(Fic) Alone

This story was inspired by an odd thought: what happens to the monsters when mankind is gone? Enjoy!

ALONE

The sky was a gray shroud cast over a graveyard landscape of ruined cities and scorched earth. Trees grew in twisted clumps, those that grew at all, and the wind rattled their dead branches together, until it seemed the landscape was haunted by a band of invisible castanet players.

Eleanora grasped the broomstick thrust between her thighs and squinted below her, at the bleached bone earth. Nothing moved, that wasn’t pushed about by the wind. Adjusting the goggles she wore over her eyes, to protect them from the ever-present grit, she flew in an ever-widening spiral, searching the world for any signs of life.

She found none. Neither bird nor beast, neither fish nor fowl seemed to have survived the long winter. The world had been wiped clean by fire and madness.

Idiots, thought the old witch.

Gripping her broomstick, she whirled sharply and headed for home. The sun was sinking, the meager warmth that penetrated the clouds fading from her skin, and she wanted to be in doors before the night’s brutal cold arrived.

Home was a cave in the mountains, far from prying eyes and, as luck would have it, falling bombs. She had been sleeping when the war happened and, except for some spectacularly bad dreams, had not otherwise been affected by it. Her cavern home was deep and dark, sealed by stone doors that had kept out fallout and acid rain, the ravages of the long night and who knew what other manmade horrors.

Eleanora had woken from her long sleep, stiff and aching, with the absolute knowledge that the world had changed. But until she had climbed out of her cave and seen the state of the place did the enormity of that change strike home.

She alighted on the hard rock outcropping just as the hidden sun began to vanish behind the world’s curve. Broom slung over her shoulder, Eleanora descended into the dark earth.

The great stone doors opened at her approach, and green flame sprang into being on her meager hearth. She emptied the pockets of her long, drab dress tossing bones into her cauldron. The world was full of bones, a graveyard and banquet all in one. Eleanora would not starve.

As always, the first thing she did was check under the bed. It was empty. If there were any monsters left in the world, they weren’t hiding under her bed.

Perhaps there aren’t any monsters left, thought Eleanora.

It was a sobering notion.

She shut the stone doors of her little cave and crouched over her cauldron. The bones simmered, long and short, human and animal. She whispered to them, strained to hear anything answer back, but the bones remained quiet. As dead as the world she’d plucked them from.

Sighing, Eleanora sat back and pondered her next step.

She’d flown as far as she could on the broom, and still be able to return to her cave. If she flew further away, she’d have to take provisions with her, find shelter against the cold. And it all seemed so much bother.

Glancing around her cave, she spotted the pile of broken glass lying in a corner. She frowned. The glass had belonged to a magic mirror, an old and cherished item, that had not survived the war. It had tumbled over during her sleep, breaking into a thousand pieces. Eleanora could have repaired the glass easily enough, but the enchantments woven into it were beyond her.

She regretted not storing it more safely. The mirror would have let her search the whole world from the safety and comfort of her home. Now, she had to do it the hard way.

And what was she even looking for? Mankind was dead. Gone the way of the dodo, or so it appeared. And if they weren’t dead, what then? The survivors would be a scabrous lot. They would probably be a thousand times worse than the wickedest monster-under-the-bed.

No, mankind had never been satisfied with mere frights. They hungered for blood.

Well, thought Eleanora, they had gotten their full of it with their damned war and it drowned them.

Why was she hunting for them? For anything?

It wasn’t loneliness. Eleanora had always lived away from men, away from the others of her kind. She was solitary by nature and not sentimental in the least. So why was she hunting for survivors?

Maybe, she thought, I just miss their noise. Their airplanes and automobiles, their trains and cell phones. Mankind had filled the world with busy noise and, since their absence, the world had been quite as a tomb.

Perhaps, thought the witch, I just want someone to talk to.

At this point, Eleanora would have tolerated the most inane vampire, the most brain-dead zombie to ever crawl out of its grave. If only for five minutes.

But vampires, who preyed on humans, were now as dead as their food source. And zombies had never managed to survive very long, even under ideal circumstances. Eleanora doubted any of them had made it either.

There could, she postulated, be some witches left. No doubt others, like her, had been deep in hibernation when the bombs fell. Some would have survived, probably in isolated, out-of-the-way places like Alaska and China and the Gobi Desert. Perhaps she should pack up the broomstick and tour the world, hunting for her witch-sisters, rousing the sleepers.

But to what end? To have one last great party beneath the skeleton moon? To stalk through the cindered forests, the ruined cities, noting the folly of man? To listen to the endless pontificating, the rampant theorizing about how and when mankind had gone collectively mad?

The more she thought about it, the less appealing the scheme became to Eleanora. She looked around her cave, lit by crackling green firelight, and realized that she had everything here that she had ever wanted. Now, she just didn’t need to worry about hikers or spelunkers or wandering vagrants.

The witch settled herself by her fire, stirred her cauldron full of bones and smiled.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Take a Break!

Hello, gentle readers!
Sorry for the lateness of this blog entry, but I was out and about all day yesterday. This is the first chance I've had to sit down and write anything.
It's been a trying week here, so yesterday I decided to take a break.
I hopped in my car and drove 200 miles north and west to go gambling.
Did I win?
Yes.  Yes, I did.
The sad thing is that I would have come home with almost double my money if I'd listened to that little voice in the back of my head. I think some people call it 'the voice of Reason.' 
But I didn't, so even though I came out ahead, I didn't come out as far ahead as I could have.
Still, I had a good time.
Sometimes, it's nice just to get away from it all. To climb into your car and drive and see where the world takes you.
So, if you've been having a lot of problems lately, or are just unhappy, might I suggest that you take a break? Maybe a day trip somewhere all by yourself. 
It can work wonders.