Monthly Archives: December 2011

I can see (more) clearly now

Chapter 2 (Going to the Church House) of Once Upon an Ever After is in the can. That makes me about 3% done with the first draft. There’s a long way to go, but the words are still coming fairly easily. And the further I go into this story, the more I learn about its faerie-riddled, post-apocalyptic world. I know more about my characters and what drives them.

There’s usually a fair amount of discovery as I write. I’ve always been one to have a starting point, a destination and a basic set of directions that probably won’t bear much resembalance
to my final route. Google Maps, it ain’t. Most of the time, it’s not even an outline, just a chapter list. But right now, Once Upon an Ever After doesn’t even have that. It’s like the muse told me , “Go west, moderately young man,” and I went without waiting to hear where exatly in the west I shoild be heading.

Keep in mind this project didn’t start out as a novel or even a short story. I had intended this to be a fragment, a writing exercise for a scene based on a particularly vivid dream. But I kept writing. My brain spitting out ideas as it mulled the scene over. I took those ideas and kept writing.

So, here I am, 4,300 words later, still plodding along. I’ve got a pretty good idea of Chapter 3 (Be It Ever so Humble) and Chapter 4 (Error & Trial). Beyond that, it gets a little hazy (but it is getting better, since I didn’t really know where Chapter 2 was going when I started Chapter 1). There’s a long road ahead of me. I know som of the points it will pass through, but there are also a fair number of blind curves along the way. The end is kind of like the backstory issue I had. I have a rough idea that feels mostly right, but it’s not quite ready yet.

So, I have basically stepped out on Bilbo Baggins’ Road. It goes ever on, and there’s no telling where it will sweep me. Although I am pretty sure my destinations are more Mirkwood than Rivendell.

Got your hiking boots on?


I’m not quite dead…

As you can probably tell from my blog posts recently, I’ve been reading a little bit more than I have in awhile. And it’s been nice to have that opportunity. As writers we hear how important it is to read, but you don’t realize the truth of it sometimes until the opportunity presents itself. But that’s not all I’ve been doing.

I’m about 2,300 words further into Once Upon an Ever After. Again, perhaps not the greatest of metrics as that only puts me about 4,500 words in, but it’s progress. Which is something on my tight schedule. Even better, I’m nearly done with the second chapter, “Going to the Church House.” Soon I’ll start on Chapter 3, “Be it Ever so Humble.” I’ve also been able to figure out some backstory/worldbuilding points that have been bugging me. Namely, how the faerie world  managed to gain the upper hand over the humans. I’d been working with an idea for awhile,but it was bugging me because it didn’t quite feel right. Now it does. I’ll probably put it into a prologue. This is an approach I’ve picked up from C.S. Friedman‘s Coldfire Trilogy. In two of the books, she put a little bit about the history of Erna as it related to the current story (how humans got to work the fae and the origins of the Hunter). I know some people don’t like prologues, but that has always intrigued me. It’s how I begin Jennings Grove and The Final Quarter.

On a more frustrating front, I’ve had another ping from my “Twitter muse,” the one that keeps throwing ideas at me. It’s hard enough to find time to work on Once Upon an Ever After without other cool ideas bombarding me. I had one a few weeks ago (about a guy who ages forward and backward over and over again), but it’s managed to leave me alone. This one won’t. If I can find the time (ha ha) to work on it, Remember the Alamo would be a steampunk horror novel set during an alternate Texas Revolution. I’ve been wanting to do a steampunk story for some time, but couldn’t ever come up with an idea. Now that I have…it’s hard to remain focused on the WiP. Oh, well. I’ll manage. And if I get stuck on the current work, I can move over to that one, I suppose.

Book Review: Seed by Ania Ahlborn

Title: Seed
Author: Ania Ahlborn
Rating: **** (out of 5)

I’m not usually a fan of “indie” (read: self-published) authors. I will check them out on my Kindle sometimes when the books are free. I’m slogging through one right now that I can tell even after a few pages will not have a great review. But then there are the few who really shine. Barry Napier (Masks of Our Fathers) was one. Ania Ahlborn is another. Seed is a dark novel with an even darker ending. I like unhappy endings, and I had a hard time with this one.

In the vine-twisted swamps of Louisiana, the shadows have teeth. Jack Winter has spent his entire life running from something no one else can see. His childhood is his darkest secret, but after a near fatal accident along a deserted road, the darkness he was sure he’d escaped rears its ugly head… and smiles. But this time, he isn’t the only one who sees the soulless eyes of his past. This time, his six-year-old daughter Charlie leans into his ear and whispers: “Daddy, I saw it too.” And then she begins to change. Faced with reliving the nightmares of his childhood, Jack watches his daughter spiral into the shadows that had nearly consumed him twenty years before.  But Charlie isn’t the only one who’s changing. Jack never outran the darkness. It’s been with him all along. And it’s hungrier than ever.

Ahlborn has created a truly creepy, sinister tale that will stick with you long after you get done reading it. We see little of Jack’s job or band aside from references, which I think is unfortunate. But this is mostly a novel about people, and the depiction of the Winter family is top notch. Seldom do characters seem as real as these do. The creepy little girl is especially well done. Ahlborn’s teasing revelations of Jack’s childhood is reminiscent of Stephen King at his best.

Speaking of King, the ending for Seed is one of the best, darkest pieces of storytelling I’ve come across in awhile. I’m pretty sure not everyone will like it, however. In some ways, it’s like the ending of The Dark Tower, which King telegraphed if you were looking hard enough. That didn’t stop it from irritating fans, though. Seed is like that. Ahlborn’s conclusion isn’t all that shocking once you get past the brutality of it, but it’s enough to make you wish you had been wrong about where it was going.

That’s not to say that I think the  novel was perfect. John seemed a little to willing to let what’s happening to his daughter ride without any real attempt to stop it. It’s not like Ahlborn set up a flat character; she put a fair amount of effort into trying to set up this particular character trait and explaining why he’s acting the way he does. But with all the time spent showing how much he loves Charlie, this acceptance kind of fell flat to me.

All told, this is a first-class horror story that scare afficianados should  have in their collections. I’ve got a feeling Ania Ahlborn will be a name to watch.

Book Review: Cinema of Shadows by Michael West

Title: Cinema of Shadows
Author: Michael West
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Rating: **** (out of 5)

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t much care for fast-paced horror. I grew up with the door-stopper tomes of Stephen King and Clive Barker. I like the way they slowly unfold a story and reveal the terror to come. (Slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch). That being said, Cinema of Shadows is very much a fast-paced horror story that I very much enjoyed.

Welcome to the Woodfield Movie Palace. The night the Titanic sank, it opened for business…and its builder died in his chair. In the 1950s, there was a fire; a balcony full of people burned to death. And years later, when it became the scene of one of Harmony, Indiana’s most notorious murders, it closed for good. Abandoned, sealed, locked up tight…until now. Tonight, Professor Geoffrey Burke and his Parapsychology students have come to the Woodfield in search of evidence, hoping to find irrefutable proof of a haunting. Instead, they will discover that, in this theater, the terrors are not confined to the screen.

Cinema is a story much in the vein of The Mangler with a touch of Rose Red. It’s got demons, ghosts and psychics. It’s got a parapsychology instructor eager for proof. And it’s got a great setting, well-rounded characters and plenty of scares. West does some interesting things with the trapped-ghost sub-genre, but overall, the book didn’t strike me as overly original. Even the ending in the epilogue (delivered after the “credits” movie-style) is fairly predictable. But you know what? The reader doesn’t care (at least, this reader didn’t). Even knowing the tropes West employs (and some of the ones he subverts), I couldn’t put this one down.

I will say that the story’s pace does harm it somewhat, in my opinion. For example, one character  faces some really weird stuff completely contrary to his rational world view. In a King novel, he’d argue with himself for chapters before finally settling on the supernatural once he ran out of options. A bit of that happens in Cinema of Shadows, but the acceptance comes a bit to readily in my opinion. But that’s a minor point in an otherwise fantastic story.

Book Review: Plague by Bret Jordan

Title: PlaguePlague cover

Author: Bret Jordan
Publisher: Purple Sword Publications
Rating: *** (out of 5)

I’ve got a long, personal history with Plague. Both Bret Jordan’s novel and my own Jennings Grove started as online serials for Graveside Tales. Jordan and I would help each other with plot ideas, copy editing and the like. Due to some upheaval in my life, I never finished reading Plague online, so I was thrilled to see it finally make it into print. This was a phenomenal online novel; Jordan has made it even better for the final draft. Mostly.

Sword and sorcery battle against an unstoppable hunger as the few living residents try and escape the walls of an undead nightmare. Renier is a port city that stands as a glorious gem on the edge of the kingdom. The people are justly ruled by their beloved duke with the assistance of a benevolent wizard and a self-involved priest. Within twenty-four hours everything changes as a small group of strange lepers enter the port and cause a mysterious and deadly illness to rage through the city, killing most of the residents. Violent illness and gruesome death isn’t the end of the horror for the residents of Renier. Not by a long shot, as thousands of dead bodies rise from the cobblestone streets in search of living prey.

Jordan does some fantastic storytelling here. His world-building is tightly focused on Renier, but well done. The characters are, for the most part, well thought out and fleshed out. They fell flat a few times in my opinion, especially the wizard at times, but it worked well overall. His beginning and middle are some of the best fantasy writing I’ve encountered, bar none. His use of zombies is unique…even if he never calls them that (except for one perhaps accidental reference). His sensory imagery is absolutely wonderful. A little too much, in fact. It’s hard to read the passages of people dying of the plague on a full stomach. Jordan shows a flare for the visceral that reminds me of Clive Barker.

It’s at the end that Plague starts to unravel a bit. An undead general who’s played up as a military genius doesn’t get enough air time — nor does his supposedly brilliant strategic mind. The general has a pair of partners, one of which is a wraith that is given a great deal of mysterious potential but either unaccountably dissappears or  is an assassin character that shows up unaccountably later in the book. But if said assassin is the “wraith,” it’s a lot more solid later than earlier. But it’s also rushed. Things not only move quickly, they move so fast and end so abruptly that Plague feels incomplete. The book doesn’t just cry out for a sequel, it demands one. I won’t give the ending away, but I will say that for me it lacked a satisfactory conclusion. It felt more like the midpoint of the story rather than the end.

But even so, Plague was worth the wait and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes good, dark fantasy.

EDIT: Talked to Mr. Jordan today, and he tells me there is a sequel in the works at some point. So while that doesn’t necessarily alleviate all the issues Plague has, it should go a long way to fixing it. 

Why do you do what you do?

I’ve made a small bit of progress on “Once Upon an Ever After” this week. I’m about five hundred words or so into Chapter 2: Going to the Church House (Chapter 1 is Peaches & Scream). I know many writers post their word metrics and rejoice their productivity, or bemoan the lack thereof. I’m not here to do either. By most measures, that’s pretty pitiful for a week, but it’s proof to me that I’m still making progress, however small.

Much of the overall plot still eludes me, but I have noticed a trend in the ideas I’m working with these days. I’m working a lot with traditional fairy tale critters in a modern setting. And that brings to mind the question: Why do you do what you do?

I don’t mean so much why write as where the decisions come from as to what to write about. The first question is answered on the front page of this site. Writers write because it’s what we do, much in the same way that fish fly and birds swim. But why write the things we do? I was recently asked this question for a blog — specifically why I wrote zombie tales. I can answer that in part. I like exploring primal fears, such as darkness (Jennings Grove) and death (zombies). I’m also a huge fantasy fan. Aside from that, though, it’s a hard questonto answer. There’s something about bringing the fairy world to a gritty, modern reality that I like. With Once Upon an Ever After, it’s mostly a case of inspiration struck, and I’m not going to let it go.

And that’s good enough for me. I know self-reflection is a good thing, but there’s little point in winding up like Narcissus and staring at that reflection until you die. I’ll save it for my editing.

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