Tuesday, December 28, 2010

This past year in writing

Livia Blackburne has a post about how she's improved in writing this past year, namely how she's improved her style of writing.  That got me to thinking about ways in which I've improved as a writer this past year.  I don't think I can point to any particular aspect of writing in which I've improved, but I have improved in one way: I've become a more disciplined writer.  Not perfectly disciplined, mind you, as I still have lapses, but I've become better at setting aside time for writing, and writing stories from beginning to end.  I've also broadened my horizons and begun writing in more genres, tackling ideas farther afield from my usual area.  There are plenty of ways in which I'd still like to improve, of course, but I think that's a significant step in the right direction.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival coming up

The next Storyblogging Carnival will go up on Monday, January 10th. If you use your blog to share your fiction, then the Storyblogging Carnival is your opportunity. Here we host any and all forms of storytelling in blog format. If you're curious about what this looks like, have a look at some examples of previous storyblogging carnivals.

If you'd like to participate, please e-mail your story submissions to me at dscrank-at-alum-dot-mit-dot-edu (or post in my comments), including the following information:
  • Name of your blog
  • URL of your blog
  • Title of the story
  • URL for the blog entry where the story is posted
  • (OPTIONAL) Author's name
  • (OPTIONAL) A suggested rating for adult content (G, PG, PG-13, R)
  • A word count
  • A short blurb describing the story
The post may be of any age, from a week old to years old. The submission deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Saturday, January 8th. More detailed information follows (same as always):
  1. The story or excerpt submitted must be posted on-line as a blog entry, and while fiction is preferred, non-fiction storytelling is acceptable.
  2. The story can be any length, but the Carnival will list them in order of length, from shortest to longest, and include a word count for each one.
  3. You may either send a complete story, a story in progress, or a lengthy excerpt. You should indicate the word count for both the excerpt and the complete story in the submission, and you should say how the reader can find more of the story in the post itself.
  4. If the story spans multiple posts, each post should contain a link to the beginning of the story, and a link to the next post. You may submit the whole story, the first post, or, if you've previously submitted earlier posts to the Carnival, the next post which you have not submitted. Please indicate the length of the entire story, as well as the portion which you are submitting.
  5. The host has sole discretion to decide whether the story will be included or not, or whether to indicate that the story has pornographic or graphically violent content. The ratings for the story will be decided by the host. I expect I'll be pretty lenient on that sort of thing, but I have some limits, and others may draw the line elsewhere. Aside from noting potentially offensive content, while I may say nice things about stories I like, I won't be panning anyone's work. I expect other hosts to be similarly polite.
  6. The story may be the blogger's own or posted with permission, but if it is not his own work he should gain permission from the author before submitting to the Carnival.
If you'd like to be added to the e-mail list, please let me know. Finally, I appreciate folks promoting the carnival on their own blogs, and I'm always looking for bloggers willing to host future carnivals.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Review of "From Words to Brain" by Livia Blackburne


Disclosure: Livia is a friend of mine, and sent me a free review copy of this essay.  I will nonetheless endeavor to be as balanced as possible in my review.

Livia's essay, "From Words to Brain," is a 7,700 word overview of the scientific literature on how the brain interprets stories.  Using the example of the story of "Little Red Riding Hood," she reviews how the brain recognizes letters and words, visualizes the scenes and actions, empathizes with the characters, and draws moral conclusions from the story.  The writing is tight without being dense, and easily understandable by the layman.  And I, at least, find the subject fascinating.

The essay's weakness is that it is too short.  As a writer always looking for ways to improve my art, I'm certainly interested in what brain science tells us about how people read, and write, stories.  While there were some useful tidbits in the essay, most of them are tricks that experienced writers already know--such as that readers fill in the details in a scene without requiring overdone description. There were a few things which I had never thought about or didn't know, such that women tend to sympathize more with the antagonist than men do, but I feel like there's a lot more that Livia could have shared with us in a longer essay.

This probably wouldn't affect how I viewed a free essay available online, but the publisher is charging over $5 for the essay.  Considering that you can get entire classic novels for free on Amazon's Kindle, this seems like too much for this essay.  I would still recommend it if you are interested in the subject, and would like a stepping stone to more advanced work, such as the literature Livia cites.  But I'm hesitant to recommend it to those on a writer's budget.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Experimental Archaeology

As I mentioned the other day, Kristin and I did some ancient Roman cooking a week ago.  The great challenge in doing something like this is finding the ingredients.  Garum, a popular fish sauce in ancient Rome, isn't exactly available at the grocery store (although there's a reasonable substitute used in Vietnamese cooking).  We managed to make do there.  Harder to find was a substitute for defrutum, which is reduced grape must.  We had to go to a wine supply store to get something roughly equivalent.

That was the most difficult part from our end, but in reality the most difficult part of Roman cooking is figuring out the recipes.  There are a few ancient sources of Roman recipes, Apicius being the most famous.  However, Roman recipes tend to lack such niceties as amounts and cooking times.  For example:
For mussels: Garum, chopped leek, cumin, passum, savory, and wine. Dilute this mixture with water and cook the mussels in it.
(This is taken from the Nova website, which is quoting from the book we used.)
This brings us to the topic of this post, experimental archaeology.  Experimental archaeology is when modern scholars attempt to reproduce the work of previous generations, doing their best to follow their techniques.  This can include reproducing an Ancient Greek repeating ballista, running an Iron Age farm, or cooking a Roman meal.  There is of course a lot of variation in how rigorously this is done.  Our cooking, for example, used a lot of ingredient substitutions, along with modern kitchen appliances, following an interpretation of the Roman recipe.  So not very rigorous on our part.  The authors of the various cookbooks based on Roman recipes are, fortunately, better scholars.  They were the ones who did the actual experimental archaeology in order to turn the the recipes into something usable in a modern kitchen in the first place.

Another way that Kristin and I have taken part in experimental archaeology is in the medieval swordfighting lesson we took earlier this year.  Medieval swordsmanship is a lost art--no one's practiced it for hundreds of years.  The Eastern traditions fared better, as practitioners continued to pass down their fighting techniques, even after they had been surpassed by the gun on the battlefield.  However, European sword techniques have been preserved in one way: there are a number of surviving fight manuals, which display the techniques used in medieval swordsmanship.  They look something like this:


Usually, with a one or two word caption.  This, from Talhoffer (the most famous of the fight books), has the caption War-work.  ARMA (the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts) has lengthy excerpts available online.  Even with the complete fight book, it's hard to make out exactly what's going on in the images.  That's why experimental archaeology is so valuable.  It brings together all the manuals, with real swords, experience with related martial arts, and actual sparring, and attempts to reproduce the techniques which are only hinted at. 

That turns a number of images like the above, into something like this:




Aside from the exercise, why would anyone want to reproduce sword fighting techniques from the late Middle Ages?  Or, for that matter, recipes from the late Roman era?  It's partly a scholarly exercise, useful for archaeologists.  But I find it very helpful for a different reason.  As a writer of fantasy that draws inspiration from both Roman society and the Middle Ages, such experiments give me a better understanding of how the people of that time lived, allowing me to write with greater verisimilitude.

Plus it's fun.  And I, at least, thought the Roman food was pretty good.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival?

Since Christmas is coming this next week, and I think people might be a mite busy, I'm going to delay the Storyblogging Carnival by a week.  The normal announcement will go up next Monday, and submissions will be due by Saturday, January 8th.  Of course, if you send me something early, I'll hold it in reserve until I start accepting submissions.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Roman cooking

Kristin and I made a meal based on Roman recipes today.  Well, mostly Kristin made it, and I helped.  She has all the cooking details, if you're interested, in a post on her blog:
Today Donald and I thought it would be fun to prepare an “authentic” ancient Roman dinner. I have several books on Roman cooking, most making liberal use of Apicius (the most famous ancient Roman cookbook author). I’ve found the most accessible and interesting to be Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa’s A Taste of Ancient Rome (translated by Anna Herklotz; original title was A cena da Lucullo). The author is a foodie with an archaeology background, and her goal was to take recipes from Apicius, Cato and other sources and provide a version that a modern cook could follow. The ancient sources tend not to provide a lot of detail. They’ll give the ingredients (most of them), and some vague clues as to preparation. America’s Test Kitchen it ain’t! Giacosa’s versions of the recipes should, theoretically, be doable in a modern kitchen.
It was a lot of fun, and I thought the result was pretty tasty.  It did take more work than I'd be willing to spend on cooking with any regularity, though.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival CXV

Welcome to the 115th Storyblogging Carnival. There are six entries this time, four of them from new contributors.  Enjoy!

Trippy Limerick
by Madelein Begun Kane of Mad Kane's Humor Blog
An under 100 word brief story rated PG.

The tale of a foiled vacation trip told in a two verse limerick.
Just like old times!!!!
by Witty Jester of Witty Humor
A 200 word graphic story rated G.

A different take on "Noah and his ark"

The First Legion: Part IV of The History of the Domini (To the beginning)
by Donald S. Crankshaw of Back of the Envelope
The next 340 words of a 2,500 word story in progress rated PG.

Randall continues the story of the Domini by recounting the summoning of the First Legion.

This is Necessary
by Mr. Squarehead of Squarehead Diaries
A 388 word short story rated PG.

The world, as I see it from inside out.


WOLFDOG
by Ingela Richardson of storywishes
A 997 word brief story rated G.

"When Wolfdog was a puppy, he was very cute and fluffy. He was taken from his mother and given to a boy for a pet one cold and snowy Christmas."


On Giving Thanks: grateful I am not a cranberry
by GrrlScientist of Punctuated Equilibrium
A 1,073 word short story rated PG.

My favorite Thanksgiving memory.

This concludes the one hundred and fifteenth Storyblogging Carnival.
If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The History of the Domini: Part IV

Old Post: Part III can be found here, while the beginning is here.

Being a further account of the history of the Domini, as recorded by Randall Aurelius.




Part IV: The First Legion

The details of the magic involved in the calling of the First Legion are long forgotten.  We do know that it was the first of only two times that the disparate magics of the Shades and the Amaranthine were combined.  The Circuit involved hundreds of magic-users, and many of them died in the effort.  But when it was done, an army had been summoned to our aid.

From where they were summoned is still a mystery.  The First Legion neither spoke our language, nor understood what we wanted from them.  They were angry at being ripped from their own land, but terrified of the magic we wielded.  With great difficulty, we found a way to communicate.  From what we were able to learn, they came from a land similar to ours in many ways, but there they had no contact with naka or goblins or Malwer.  Instead humans warred upon each other for control of the land and the sea.  It is difficult to understand now how strange that was to us then, humans fighting wars against each other.  We were far from a peaceful people even then, but we had no understanding of conflict on such a scale.  The First Legion did, and we needed that understanding.  After a great deal of bargaining, with threats on both sides, we were able to reach an agreement.

The numbers which the First Legion added to humanity’s beleaguered forces were small, but the expertise was considerable.  They were among the best trained and most disciplined soldiers in their land, and they shared their training and experience with us, first strengthening our defenses against the naka and goblins, and then leading the assault to drive back the invaders.  Unprepared as they were to face competent warriors, the nakan advance faltered and then collapsed, and their conquests were quickly retaken.  Emboldened by our successes, we pursued the naka and goblins as they retreated, and may have succeeded in eliminating both races entirely, had not the Malwer themselves taken the field.


This is a 341 word continuation of a 2,500 word story in progress.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Upcoming Storyblogging Carnival

The next Storyblogging Carnival will go up on Monday, December 6th. If you use your blog to share your fiction, then the Storyblogging Carnival is your opportunity. Here we host any and all forms of storytelling in blog format. If you're curious about what this looks like, have a look at some examples of previous storyblogging carnivals.

If you'd like to participate, please e-mail your story submissions to me at dscrank-at-alum-dot-mit-dot-edu (or post in my comments), including the following information:
  • Name of your blog
  • URL of your blog
  • Title of the story
  • URL for the blog entry where the story is posted
  • (OPTIONAL) Author's name
  • (OPTIONAL) A suggested rating for adult content (G, PG, PG-13, R)
  • A word count
  • A short blurb describing the story
The post may be of any age, from a week old to years old. The submission deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Saturday, December 4th. More detailed information follows (same as always):
  1. The story or excerpt submitted must be posted on-line as a blog entry, and while fiction is preferred, non-fiction storytelling is acceptable.
  2. The story can be any length, but the Carnival will list them in order of length, from shortest to longest, and include a word count for each one.
  3. You may either send a complete story, a story in progress, or a lengthy excerpt. You should indicate the word count for both the excerpt and the complete story in the submission, and you should say how the reader can find more of the story in the post itself.
  4. If the story spans multiple posts, each post should contain a link to the beginning of the story, and a link to the next post. You may submit the whole story, the first post, or, if you've previously submitted earlier posts to the Carnival, the next post which you have not submitted. Please indicate the length of the entire story, as well as the portion which you are submitting.
  5. The host has sole discretion to decide whether the story will be included or not, or whether to indicate that the story has pornographic or graphically violent content. The ratings for the story will be decided by the host. I expect I'll be pretty lenient on that sort of thing, but I have some limits, and others may draw the line elsewhere. Aside from noting potentially offensive content, while I may say nice things about stories I like, I won't be panning anyone's work. I expect other hosts to be similarly polite.
  6. The story may be the blogger's own or posted with permission, but if it is not his own work he should gain permission from the author before submitting to the Carnival.
If you'd like to be added to the e-mail list, please let me know. Finally, I appreciate folks promoting the carnival on their own blogs, and I'm always looking for bloggers willing to host future carnivals.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival CXIV

Welcome to the 114th Storyblogging Carnival. It's a bit late, partly due to me being overloaded at worked, but also due to the fact that I was fishing for more entries.  In the end we have six total.  Enjoy!


First Christmas in a Queen Sized Bed
by Tash of Love Santa
A 99 word brief story rated G.

A child's short story about a special Christmas memory


Pigheaded Limerick
by Madelein Begun Kane of Mad Kane's Humor Blog
An under 100 word word brief story rated PG.

The tale of a stubborn man whose car is towed, told in a three verse limerick.

Introducing the Venkman Brothers
by Mark A. Rayner of The Skwib
A 150 word short story rated PG-13.

The epic tale of Herbetron and Merculia Venkman, brothers from a proud tradition of Norwegian clowns.


The Amaranthine: Part III of The History of the Domini
by Donald S. Crankshaw of Back of the Envelope
The next 750 words of a 2,200 word story in progress rated PG.

Randall continues the story of the Domini by recounting their relations with the Amaranthine.

How to Keep Good Time with Rare Cogs and Orphan Springs
by Klara Bow Piechocki of Violet Hustle
The first 3,148 words of an ongoing story rated R.

"Kumiko had only had her baby four hours ago and her body felt exhausted. She had let herself into Rheam’s quarters and turned down the corners of the fresh bed sheets for him, before she sat on the edge of the bed and waited for his return. She knew that it was a job for his courtesan, but she had been eager to see him.


Wizards Don't Have to be Smart
by CJ Burch of Divas for Geeks
A 5,500 word short story rated PG.

A Weird Western.

This concludes the one hundred and fourteenth Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The History of the Domini: Part III

Old Post: Part II can be found here, while the beginning is here.

Being a further account of the history of the Domini, as recorded by Randall Aurelius.




Part III: The Amaranthine

To humans, a hundred years is three to four generations. Events that happened that far back are no more than legends to people without written histories. To the Malwer, it was just enough time to prepare the means to avenge themselves on their escaped slaves. By that time, the humans who had fled the Malwer had lost all contact with those who remained behind to fight. The communication had slowed to a trickle over the years, stories of a distant war that most of the newly free humans did not believe was worth fighting. When it finally stopped, there was some worry, but a few years passed and the worries ceased.

The free humans were focused on the business of surviving and building farms and communities in the their new lands rather than on the distant, mostly forgotten threat of the Malwer. The Shades among them were likewise occupied with building their cloistered communities and finding recruits among the other humans. Over time, methods of recruiting were developed to take young men with the ability while minimizing the trauma to him or his community, but in the process the Shades became more and more isolated from the rest of humanity. Some preferred reclusiveness, while others used their power to try to force people to serve them. Occasionally, Shade communities of differing philosophies would clash, but these were mere skirmishes compared to the later wars.

The Malwer would have overwhelmed humanity when they finally came upon them in force, if not for the Amaranthine. The Amaranthine are nearly as great a mystery as the Malwer. They lacked the Malwer’s ability with magic (although there were a few among them, called wizards, who had powerful magical abilities), but they were similarly long-lived, and they knew a great deal about the Malwer, whom they held a bitter grudge against for unknown reasons. They looked nearly human, although with odd coloring and strange characteristics. Many today say they were related to the Kawyr, although they regarded humans with more sympathy than the cold Kawyr ever could. When the Amaranthine first came, warning that the Malwer were coming with a large force of creatures which no one had ever heard of, no one knew what to make of them, including the Shades. Just a few messengers came at first, but soon it became clear that there was a mass migration of the Amaranthine, women and children along with men, fleeing from something. Although many took their warnings seriously, a few saw them as interlopers. The Shades themselves were divided, and many of the communities forbade the Amaranthine from entering areas under their control. There were a few skirmishes, but no widespread conflict, and eventually the Amaranthine settled just outside the human areas. They continued to warn of brutish, violent creatures behind them, but the humans saw no reason to take their warnings seriously, until the Orcs came.

There were, in fact, creatures of two types in the initial invasion: Orcs and Goblins. Orcs are roughly as tall as humans, but more muscular. While most of them are not very intelligent, the commanders of their armies are as smart as we are. There were no warlocks or witches among them at this time. Goblins are smaller, uglier, and stupider. The humans had little chance against the invaders. In the hundred years they had been free, there had been no wars more serious than a skirmish, and no human community had formed anything resembling an army. The Shades fared little better. They too had only skirmished, and they had developed little magic capable of facing armies. While the goblins were less an army than an unruly mob, forced to fight by their Orc masters, the Orcs showed a surprising grasp of tactics and strategy, even though their forces were lacking in discipline. And if what the Amaranthine said was true, the Malwer were the ones truly behind the attack. They had recruited the Orcs to carry out their vengeance on the humans.

Fortunately for the humans, the Amaranthine had been fighting Orcs for years, and they lent their aid against them. It was not enough, though, as the Amaranthine were few in number, and their wizards were even fewer. Humanity was forced to retreat from their attackers, driven towards the sea in a narrowing strip of land as the Orcs laid claim to the countryside. In desperation, the Shades and the wizards pooled their abilities, and performed an act of magic unlike any seen before or since. They called the First Legion.


This is a 750 word continuation of a 2,200 word story in progress.

New Post: The next part can be found here.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Review of Towers of Midnight by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan


In 2007, James Oliver Rigney, who authored the best-selling Wheel of Time series under the pseudonym Robert Jordan, died.  He had not yet completed the series.  His widow selected Brandon Sanderson, the author of the Mistborn series, to finish the work.

The first result of that effort was The Gathering Storm, released last year.  It was a promising effort which, despite some flaws, captured the spirit of the Wheel of Time and moved the plot towards completion.  Now the second book, Towers of Midnight, has come out.  How does it compare?

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed.  As much as I like the Wheel of Time, and Brandon Sanderson's work, this one doesn't feel quite right.  Or maybe, it's because I like them both so much that I was disappointed.  It's not a bad book.  It's about average for a Wheel of Time book, which makes it above average, even good, compared to a lot of fantasy fiction.  But I expected better from the penultimate book of this 14 book series.

The first problem I noticed is one of chronology.  Much of this book focuses on Mat and Perrin, and follows their character arcs as they are prepared for the Last Battle.  I found both these stories engaging and productive (something which Jordan's books sometimes just aren't).  The problem is that their stories begin well before the end of the last book.   Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that Brandon switches viewpoints much more often than Jordan did, and their chapters were interspersed with Rand's and Egwene's chapters,which start after the end of the last book.  So one chapter you jump ahead in time, and the next you jump backwards.  This leads to some odd moments, such as Tam al'Thor being in two places at once. 

The second problem is one of characterization.  Most of the characters are fine.  Perrin, in particular, I think is handled well, finally growing into his role.  It was a little quick after just wanting to be a blacksmith for the past 12 books, but there really wasn't a lot of time left, and it happened in a way that made sense.  Elayne's a lot nicer than she used to be (since when did she feel affection for Galad?).  But since a lot of people didn't like the old Elayne, we'll just say she's mellowed with pregnancy and move on. Rand.... I'm not sure what to make of Rand.  It's good to see him sane again, but throughout this book he's just a little bit too perfect.  Messianic, in fact.  I know that he's supposed to be taking on a messianic role, but I'd prefer it if he were closer to how he was in earlier books, rather than suddenly being wise and calm and kind of dull.

Mat... ah, Mat.  It's sad to say, but I don't think Brandon really gets Mat.  Mat's supposed to be funny, and he is, but Brandon's Mat is... well, he's kind of dumb.  Now Mat's certainly not an intellectual, and he can be foolish, but Jordan's Mat is clever.  Very clever, in fact.  He has to be, in order to be the best general of this age.  His foolishness is due to the fact that he doesn't think things through.  Not because he can't see the consequences, but because he doesn't bother to consider them. He shines when he's forced to think and plan, such as when he's leading a battle.  It's hard to see how Brandon's Mat could ever be a successful general, even with his luck and the memories in his head.

One particularly egregious scene comes when he's explaining why he doesn't want to be a noble.  It's the boots.  A normal man only needs three pairs of boots, but a nobleman needs dozens.  He doesn't want to deal with that.  Another character asks whether that's a metaphor (doing so with one of those jarringly modern phrases that Brandon sometimes uses), and Mat explains that no, he's talking about boots.  Now, aside from the fact that Mat's shown the most interest in clothes of any male character (though he'll deny it if asked), the simple fact is that it's obvious why Mat dislikes nobles and doesn't want to be one, and that he's fully aware of those reasons. Mat simply values his freedom too much.  Nobles (and Aes Sedai) threaten that by telling him what to do.  Mat doesn't let anyone tell him what to do.  And worse, they try to manipulate, bully, and force him to do what they want, and Mat can't stand that.  As for why he doesn't want to be a noble, he realizes that being one would threaten his freedom even more.  The Pattern has had to drag Mat kicking and screaming into the responsibility he does have.  While he'll do his job as well as he's able (he doesn't like responsibility, but he definitely feels a sense of duty), he'll do his best not to take on any more responsibility than he absolutely has to.  Unfortunately, that really doesn't come through in Brandon's Mat.

Finally, there were a few continuity errors.  This was the book where the characters finally start learning each others' secrets.  The problem was, Brandon lost track of who knew what secrets.  For example, he forgot that Perrin's Asha'man told him about saidin's cleansing right after it happened.  And there were a few places where people suddenly knew things, and we're left to wonder whether Brandon just forgot or the reveal happened off-screen.  There were other places where it looks like Brandon might have forgotten a detail earlier and then hastily tacked it on in the revision.  And at least one reveal that I think should have gotten more attention, and resolution, than it did.

Okay, now that I've listed all the things that the book did wrong, did it do anything right?  Well, yes, it did quite a bit right.  Even with the Mat characterization off, I think Brandon managed the character arcs of Mat and Perrin very well.  They both grew into the roles they would need to fill in the final book.  Granted, Mat didn't have as far to go as Perrin, who had gotten stuck a while back.  Perrin gets to resolve a few nagging issues, and then make something really, really cool.  Mat, even suffering from a sudden drop in IQ, managed to accomplish some things which we've been waiting a long time for.  I think the cover of the book is enough that it's not a spoiler to say that he finally made it to the Tower of Ghenji.  Not all of that went as I expected, but the final key was very clever.  I didn't see it coming at all, but it made perfect sense once it did.  Other plot threads were resolved at an alarming rate... something I don't think Jordan could have done as well as Brandon, not without giving many of them short shrift.  But don't think that this was just about wrapping up plot threads that have been hanging for a long time.  There were a few surprises that actually, sincerely shocked me.  Pay attention to Aviendha--that was one of those scenes where I was thinking "let's get back to someone interesting" until I realized just how intriguing what was happening was.  And the epilogue... well, let's just say Olver's first POV is a gut-wrencher.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A few links

I've come across a few interesting links recently, and I figured I ought to share:

Jonah Goldberg talks about one consequence of the election: there'll be a lot of infighting in the Republican party. Why? To quote:
It's the nature of politics that when you're out of power, everyone can agree on what the top priority should be: Get back in power. But, the only way to get back in power is to attract people who might not share all of your goals or your passion. Majority coalitions by definition have diverse groups within them. FDR's coalition had everybody from Klansmen to blacks, socialists to industrialists. The new GOP coalition isn't nearly so exotic, but it does have its internal contradictions.
Marcia Morrissey asks "What does God really look like?" Marcia, who has never seen her husband or child, has a unique perspective on this question.

Jason Wire shares twenty untranslatable words from over a dozen languages. He writes:
Thus these words, while standing out due to our inability to find an equivalent word in out own language, should not be appreciated for our own words that we try to use to describe them, but for their own taste and texture. Understanding these words should be like eating the best slab of smoked barbequeued ribs: the enjoyment doesn’t come from knowing what the cook put in the sauce or the seasoning, but from the full experience that can only be created by time and emotion.
Sue Granquist shares what she's learned about the folklore of the Jinn in Morocco:
In Moroccan myth, each time a human is born into our world, a “Jinn” is born into another, adjacent world; more specifically the underworld.

Human beings are created from clay kilned in fire while the Jinn is created from the black smoke produced by the fire; two products of the same creation process.
...
This genie is evil incarnate and is each human beings’ personalized gift straight from Satan himself, so Happy Birthday!

As the story goes, the Jinn’s entire purpose is to stick close to its human counterpart like a dedicated poltergeist pushing him to wicked deeds, tempting him into acts of damnation and generally being a lifetime nuisance.

The Jinn love excess and whisper in the ears of their humans encouraging them to over-indulge in all things because apparently, if we’re too fat and happy, the Jinn finds it easier to plant nasty notions into our psyches.

This potentially explains a whole lot of unaccounted for chunks of time in college if you ask me.

The Jinn also know our deepest, darkest desires and use these “wishes” to tempt us into wickedness.
Livia Blackburne talks about a study showing that how erotic romance is written can have a measurable effect on condom use, and then asks the question: "What, if any, obligation does an author have to avoid promoting dangerous or self-destructive habits in their fiction?"

All in all, a lot to think about.

Monday, November 01, 2010

World Fantasy Convention Report

I'm currently on my way home from World Fantasy in Columbus, Ohio, one of the bigger conventions for speculative fiction professionals, including writers, editors, and agents. It was fun, but exhausting. Most nights, there are parties going on until 3 am or so, and the hotel bar is where most of the networking is going on.

On this convention, I met John O'Neill, the man behind Black Gate. John was fun to talk to, and introduced me to many of the people involved in Black Gate, including Howard Andrew Jones, Ryan Harvey, and James Enge. I also got a chance to participate in my first Con reading with them. I read an excerpt from A Phoenix in Darkness, which will be coming out in Issue 17. I'm not great at readings, but I think it went pretty well. At least, a lot of people remarked that the image of little girls cutting up dead bodies will be sticking with them . . .

I also got an opportunity to chat briefly with Dan Wells, the author of I am not a Serial Killer and Mr. Monster. I complimented him also on the work he does on Writing Excuses, the writing podcast. He did ask me whether it was still helpful when applied to short stories. It is, but as I told him, you have to do more in less time in a short story, and that's often a challenge. In fact, I'd say the hardest thing to do in a short story is wold building. How do you create a unique, secondary world, when you only have six thousand words to do that, while still telling a story with interesting characters? It's an interesting question, and may be worth pursuing.

I met lots of other interesting people, but it's hard to type up long posts on my iPhone, so I'll wrap this up for now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival coming up

The next Storyblogging Carnival will go up on Monday, November 8th. If you use your blog to share your fiction, then the Storyblogging Carnival is your opportunity. Here we host any and all forms of storytelling in blog format. If you're curious about what this looks like, have a look at some examples of previous storyblogging carnivals.

If you'd like to participate, please e-mail your story submissions to me at dscrank-at-alum-dot-mit-dot-edu (or post in my comments), including the following information:
  • Name of your blog
  • URL of your blog
  • Title of the story
  • URL for the blog entry where the story is posted
  • (OPTIONAL) Author's name
  • (OPTIONAL) A suggested rating for adult content (G, PG, PG-13, R)
  • A word count
  • A short blurb describing the story
The post may be of any age, from a week old to years old. The submission deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Saturday, November 6th. More detailed information follows (same as always):
  1. The story or excerpt submitted must be posted on-line as a blog entry, and while fiction is preferred, non-fiction storytelling is acceptable.
  2. The story can be any length, but the Carnival will list them in order of length, from shortest to longest, and include a word count for each one.
  3. You may either send a complete story, a story in progress, or a lengthy excerpt. You should indicate the word count for both the excerpt and the complete story in the submission, and you should say how the reader can find more of the story in the post itself.
  4. If the story spans multiple posts, each post should contain a link to the beginning of the story, and a link to the next post. You may submit the whole story, the first post, or, if you've previously submitted earlier posts to the Carnival, the next post which you have not submitted. Please indicate the length of the entire story, as well as the portion which you are submitting.
  5. The host has sole discretion to decide whether the story will be included or not, or whether to indicate that the story has pornographic or graphically violent content. The ratings for the story will be decided by the host. I expect I'll be pretty lenient on that sort of thing, but I have some limits, and others may draw the line elsewhere. Aside from noting potentially offensive content, while I may say nice things about stories I like, I won't be panning anyone's work. I expect other hosts to be similarly polite.
  6. The story may be the blogger's own or posted with permission, but if it is not his own work he should gain permission from the author before submitting to the Carnival.
If you'd like to be added to the e-mail list, please let me know. Finally, I appreciate folks promoting the carnival on their own blogs, and I'm always looking for bloggers willing to host future carnivals.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Next Storyblogging Carnival

The next Storyblogging Carnival will be going up on November 8th, rather than the 1st.  I'll be traveling next weekend (going to World Fantasy), so it'll be a week later than usual.

Friday, October 15, 2010

From the iPhone

So I'm posting this from my iPhone. I'm really just playing around with the software that lets me do that. It seems to work okay, though the free version doesn't have a lot of options.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review of Mr. Monster by Dan Wells


Mr. Monster is the sequel to I am not a Serial Killer. John Cleaver is a teenage sociopath.  He lacks empathy and compassion, and shows most of the traits of a burgeoning serial killer.  He is not, however, a bad person.  He knows the difference between right and wrong, and has a list of rules he follows to keep himself from becoming the monster he knows he might be.  Mr. Monster is what he calls that part of himself that dreams of torturing those closest to him.  He might be able to hold Mr. Monster in check, but he can't slay him.  Because sometimes, he needs that part of himself.

In the first book, John's small town is haunted by a real serial killer, and it's not long before John discovers that the killer is not human.  It is only by letting Mr. Monster out, just a little, that John can stalk and kill the real monster.

The question of the second book is whether John can contain Mr. Monster again.  At first, it looks like he'll be able to manage as long as he starts keeping his rules, even the ones he had to break last time.  But the killings have started again, and John may need to let his own monster out to stop them.

Mr. Monster is what is sometimes called a Terror novel--one that's more psychological, where you fear for the sanity of the protagonist rather than his health.  And that is certainly the case here.  John is scarier than any of the supernatural dangers we've seen so far.  The absolutely most frightening part of the book is not when John faces down the demon, but when he starts dating.  He likes the girl, and she likes him, but he has to break many of his rules to act normal on a date, and we get to watch as his control on Mr. Monster slips further away.  I won't tell you exactly how far it slips, but it's a relief when he's fighting for his life against the real serial killer.

And that is in large part what makes this book different from the first.   In the first book, John knew who the monster was, and spent most of the book stalking him--in the modern sense.  That included threatening letters and anonymous tips to the police: ways he could keep the demon off-balance until he could find a way to kill him.  The way he does find shows exactly how dangerous John can be.  But in this book, we spend most of it not knowing who the new demon is.  He's just background while we watch John's psychological drama unfold.  To his credit, Dan Wells brings the drama to a head in the confrontation with the real demon.  Unfortunately, when we did see the real demon, he was something of a let-down.  He just seemed a lot less frightening in the end than the first one.

Overall, I do think this was an excellent book.  The psychological drama worked well, which it had to, since the external threat was ultimately disappointing.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Trip report

Back in September, Kristin and I went to Houston for a wedding, and then visited my family in Louisiana.  I haven't talked about it, but Kristin's been blogging away, with pictures.  See what she has to say, starting with Houston, then St. Francisville, and finally Avery Island.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The History of the Domini: Part II

Old Post: The beginning, Part I, can be found here.

This is the second part of the history of our order written by Randall Aurelius.


Part II: The Exodus

For a while, the Malwer feared the Shades, and whispered that they were ghosts or demons. But no conspiracy can continue forever, and eventually the Shades were found out.  At the realization that the Shades were humans with magic, fear and fury alike swept through the Malwer, and a hunt began to find the Shades and exterminate them.  As an extra dead slave here or there did not concern them, they did not burden themselves with proof that a human was indeed a Shade before executing him.  This hunt forced the Shades to flee.  Many innocent humans fled with them, fearing the Malwer who had turned on them, although many blamed the Shades for bringing this additional oppression upon them.

The Shades and the other slaves who had joined them were far from unified.  The Shades themselves were divided.  Their structure as a loose network of independent cells had protected them from the Malwer’s ferocious hunt, but left them with no hierarchy or leadership.  There was fierce infighting, especially between those who had participated in the Malwer-hunting, and those who believed it to be as bad as anything the Malwer had done.  Many wanted to fight against the Malwer and free all the humans from their grasp, while others thought that those who had now escaped should flee beyond the reach of their former masters.  The mundane humans overwhelmingly wanted to flee.

In the end, the Shades split.  Half remained behind to fight, joined by a few humans who hated their Malwer masters more than they hated the Shades.  The remaining Shades led the vast majority of humans to try to find a land far from the Malwer’s rule.  They headed north, to warmer climes.

If the Shades expected the people to be grateful, there were sorely mistaken.  Most of the former slaves blamed the Shades for the situation they were in, and they all feared their power.  They shunned the Shades, and even the Shades’ own families wanted nothing to do with brothers, sons, and husbands who had been inducted.  They were wise to do so, since, while the people were too afraid of the Shades to threaten them directly, they harassed and sometimes even harmed their families.  The Shades soon discovered that they had as much need to protect their identities from their fellow humans as from the Malwer.  The fear and resentment of the Shades even extended to those with the ability to learn, once it was discovered that there were many untrained humans among the exiles. 

The Shades made several decisions during this time that have continued to shape the Order to this day.  Only young men were taken to be trained, lest they take fathers and husbands from their families.  They were taken in secret, so that there would be no reprisals against their families, and they were required to make a clean break with their old lives, as any contact put their acquaintances at risk.  Not all the young men were willing, but they understood that once it was discovered they had the ability, they were outcasts.  Finally, women were not taken.  There were fewer women than men among the escaped slaves, and the Shades realized that the long-term survival of the independent humans would require children.  They also worried that if they recruited women with the ability, they might deplete the number of boys with it in future generations.  It should also be remembered that in these ancient days that the egalitarian impulses which are rare outside of the Philosophers even now were practically unheard of.  The Shades saw themselves as warriors, and they did not believe that women were suited for their task.

Eventually, the independent humans moved beyond the reach of the Malwer Sovereignty, and settled in a land to the west of it, likely where the Novar Empire is now.  Information trickled to them from those who had remained behind to fight.  While these warriors had been wholly unsuccessful in a direct assault, they still managed to cause difficulty for the Malwer, and to assist many among the remaining slaves who wished to escape.  Meanwhile, the exodus of slaves had triggered internal turmoil among the Malwer, and the infighting would keep them occupied for years to come.



New Post: The story continues here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review of Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

I've just finished reading Brandon Sanderson's first novel, Elantris.  Since I read his most recent novel, The Way of Kings, about a week ago, this means that I've read every novel he's published so far.  I'll get to The Way of Kings later, but for now, what about Elantris?

Let's start with the premise, which is original: Elantris is the city where the Elantrians live.  Elantrians are those people blessed by magic: it can come to anyone, rich or poor, old or young.  The blessing transforms them physically, giving them silvery skin and white hair, at the same time that it gives them access to AonDor, the magic they wield by tracing runes in the air.  Their city glows with the magic, which imbues every corner of it.  But ten years ago, the magic stopped working.  Those blessed with it were cursed.  Their skin became gray with black spots, their hearts stopped beating and they no longer bled.  You couldn't kill them by normal means, but they continued to feel pain.  In fact, they felt it even worse: since they could no longer heal, their wounds never stopped hurting, and a neverending hunger gnawed at them.  (Okay, so they're magical zombies.)  The common people turned against them, killing them.  But the blessing never stopped occurring at random.  Anyone now struck by the curse is sealed away in Elantris, a city that is now crumbling and covered in slime.  There they live wretched lives, unable to die, but slowly going mad from the hunger and pain.

The story centers around three characters.  The first is Raoden, previously the prince of the surrounding nation, Arelon, now cursed by Elantris.  He attempts to build a real society among the Elantrians, even while trying to discover the reason for its fall.  The second is Hrathen, a high priest of the Derethi religion.  He's come to Arelon to convert it to his religion, before his master brings destruction upon it.  Finally, there's Sarene, Raoden's betrothed.  She arrives in Arelon to find that the betrothed she never met is dead, unaware that his true fate has been hidden by his father.  She takes it upon herself to oppose Hrathen's conversion, while trying to fix the problems caused by the king's inept rule.

It's a colorful and original premise.  But, after reading his more recent work, I can confidently say that Sanderson is a better writer now than he was then.  Simply from the point of view of style and technique, you can see how he's improved his writing style, learned where to put the details in his descriptions, and made his dialogue smoother and more natural.  While modern idiom in fantasy doesn't bother me, in Elantris, Sanderson's use of it can be jarring.  He still does it, but you can see how he's gotten better at knowing what works and what doesn't.  But he's gotten better in more than just the details of writing, and you can see it in some of the weaknesses of the book.

While his characters have distinct personalities, they're often simplistic, and his characterization can be ham-handed.  He really doesn't need to tell us that Raoden's an optimist at least once a chapter, or that Sarene's bold but insecure.

Plot-wise, there are a lot of twists in this book.  Some of them really are surprising and necessary, but some just feel contrived.  And none of them had quite the feel that I think the big reveals should have: when a reader is completely surprised, but thinks to himself, "I should have seen that coming."

I say all this not to say that it's a bad book.  It's actually a very good one, and better than most of the fantasy fiction out on the market.  Sanderson's one of the best new writers in the field.  But I always find it fascinating to see how writers improve.  Almost universally, their first book is going to be their worst one, and I was impressed by how good Elantris was for a first novel.  But I'm also happy to say that he's gotten better since.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Who wrote the first fantasy story set in an other world?

Over at Black Gate, Matthew Surridge explores this question in a couple of posts.  It's an interesting question, but before it's asked, the first question is "What's meant as an other world?"  Matthew lays out four requirements:
  • The world has a distinct logic (the existence of magic fulfills this)
  • The world is not meant to be perceived as part of this world (many mainstream fiction stories create countries or cities that do not actually exist, but are meant to be accepted as existing in this world)
  • It has its own history
  • It has its own geography
Matthew points out that many fantasy stories fulfill three of these, and he considers three (specifically 1, 3, and 4) to be sufficient to constitute an other world.  Why skip two?  Because many of the early fantasies were set in a mythic time in our world, but the time is sufficiently different that it still counts.  Before getting into the question of who the first author to write in another world is, he asks:
Before naming that writer, though, I’d like to tackle a related question. And that is: why did it take so long for somebody to come up with the idea?

Consider: Morris’ The Wood Beyond the World was published in 1894. Even if the first otherworld fantasy was in fact a few decades earlier, then people were still telling tales for thousands of years before coming up with the idea of an independent world (it would be interesting to see when the term ‘world’ began being used in criticism, as in ‘the world of Dickens’ or ‘Shakespeare’s green world’). Why the long delay?

It’s not because people were less imaginative. Rather, it seems to me, looking at older stories containing fantastic material — stories close to being high fantasy — that certain structural devices keep recurring, which in retrospect prevented the need for the development of the idea of an otherworld independent of the ‘real world’. These devices were ways for a story to contain strong fantasy elements while also situating them in this world. You can find stories from before 1800 in which a setting seems to fit three or even four of the characteristics I listed in my first post; but, rather than be established as its own world, the setting is, one way or another, given a relation to conventional reality.
...
It may be more accurate, though, to turn my phrasing around. Rather than talking about frames or links to this world, we could say that there are a number of techniques by which fantasists displaced their fantasy, putting it beyond the bounds of the world of everyday life. The idea of the otherworld, then, is just one of the most recent displacement strategies to be developed. You could even say it’s the most sophisticated, because it most thoroughly embraces the idea of fiction as fiction, of a story as a self-contained creation that does not need to be justified by a precise placement in relation to the real world.
So who was the first one?  Matthew hasn't told us yet, but he's promised to get back to us next week.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival CXII

Welcome to the 112th Storyblogging Carnival. This is our sixth anniversary edition.  If you're wondering how six divides into 112, I have to admit that the carnival's period has varied over its life.  Originally, the carnival occurred every two weeks, but we reduced its frequency once we'd gone through people's repertoire and had to give them more time to write stories.  We also skipped a few due to moves and other life distractions.

Brassy Limerick
by Madelein Begun Kane of Mad Kane's Humor Blog
An under 100 word word brief story rated PG.

The tale of a woman with husband problems and music problems, told in a three verse limerick.

The Green Piggy
by Elijas Zaremba of The Vault of Thoughts
A 269 word brief story rated PG.

A story with a moral.

The Blue Light, 2011
by Mark A. Rayner of The Skwib
A 330 word short story rated PG.

Inspired by the Brothers Grimm tale, The Blue Light, 2011, tells the story of a soldier returning from war, and his encounter with an economist.

The Birth and Death of Nameless
by Webster of The Vault of Thoughts
A 497 word brief story rated PG.

"I woke up. For a split second I sincerely wished I hadn’t. I couldn’t say why. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to answer that question."

The Shades: Part I of The History of the Domini
by Donald S. Crankshaw of Back of the Envelope
A 690 word brief story rated PG.

For the first time, Randall Aurelius reveals the history of the Domini, the mysterious society of sorcerers who wielded such power in the world before the War of the Elementals.

Home Sweet Home
by Thom McNeilly of The Blog of Thom McNeilly
An 1,464 word short story rated R.

"Nigel Kingsley looked down at the crumpled heap in the dark doorway and sneered. The disgust he felt for the woman looking up at him with her grimy face was unparalleled. Leaning on his walking cane, something he never left home without, Kingsley considered spiting in the tramp’s face, but at the last moment he decided to have some fun with her instead." 

The Zapak Gambit
by Surendra Singh of Sury's Stories
A 2,379 word short story rated PG.

When a chess player needs money to buy a phone that satisfies his one addiction- facebook, he decides to scam people in a chess game... When he meets an 18 year old, well, almost!, what turn of events will surprise him?

A Bad Box
by CJ Burch of Divas for Geeks
A 4,774 word short story rated PG.

It's sort of a steam-punk thing...sort of.

This concludes the one hundred and twelfth Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.

The History of the Domini: Part I

This history is based on a draft written by Randall Aurelius just before the War.  As you know, the War rewrote our understanding of our history.  As such, this manuscript is more an historical curiosity, an explanation of how the Domini saw themselves at the time, than an accurate account of our past.

Part I: The Shades

Any history of the Domini must begin with the Malwer.  Unfortunately, so little is known about the Malwer that every history of the Domini is, of necessity, incomplete.  Nevertheless, I will endeavor to record what is known of our origins, and hope that someday the blanks may be filled.

Who, or what, the Malwer were is the great mystery of our origins.  Today, the uninitiated refer to them as demons, but in the days of our enslavement we considered them gods.  At a time before humans had any magic, every Malwer was gifted with it.  It came to them as naturally as breathing, and they viewed their magic as the proof of their right to rule mankind.

Our tradition calls the first human to discover magic Saul.  This is almost certainly not his name, and his identity is as much a mystery as how he discovered magic.  Human magic only comes through training: to this date there is no verified case of any human developing this ability spontaneously or through his own meditation.  It is as ludicrous as gnats forming spontaneously from dust or frogs from mud (a belief still held by many of the superstitious Novari).  Many have speculated that Saul must have been taught, either by a renegade Malwer or, more plausibly, by one of the Amaranthine, although this was centuries before they revealed themselves to the rest of the human race.

Whatever the source of his power, Saul knew that magic might be the key to humanity’s freedom.  However, he also knew that he did not have the ability to challenge the Malwer on his own, so he could not risk discovery by the Malwer.  Saul was most likely a field slave, with little enough contact with the Malwer to avoid their suspicion.  Even so, he proceeded with the greatest of caution.  He found others with untrained magical ability and taught them, all the while keeping his identity hidden from his students as much as anyone else, wrapping himself in an encompassing robe every time he met with them.  He knew that if any one of them were discovered, the only chance he and the rest of his students would have for survival was anonymity.  His students did the same, perhaps hiding their identities even from one another.  Eventually, his students grew knowledgeable enough to train students of their own, maintaining the practice of keeping their identities hidden from their own students. 

The teaching spread throughout the Malwer lands, and somehow they avoided discovery for several generations, most likely because they confined themselves to teaching fellow field slaves, who had little Malwer supervision, and because they did nothing but teach and learn.  While the masters continued to keep the students from learning their own identities, some cells allowed the students to know each others’ identities.  This became the only means for cells to contact one another once age claimed the former master of the current cell leaders.  Even so, after a few generations, the secrecy had taken its toll and most cells had no contact with anyone removed by a generation or two. 

It is not clear whether the teachings were confined to men deliberately at first: it may simply have been that there were more men than women among the field slaves.  It is certain that those learning magic were exclusively male by the time they took the next step, perhaps for the same reason that all soldiers are men.

It was unlikely a concerted decision, since, as I have already explained, most cells had contact with only a few others.  But at some point the cells began acting against the Malwer.  Rather than a head-to-head war, a cell would track down and kill an individual Malwer, generally one against whom they held some particular grudge.  Other cells, hearing of the rumors, began to do the same, and soon the Malwer found themselves being hunted and killed by an elusive enemy they could not identify.  When the human magic-users were spotted, hidden in their voluminous robes and no doubt further obscured by magical illusion, they appeared as shapeless black shadows.  Thus they earned the name Shades.


New Post: The next part of the story can be found here.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival LXXVI

NOTE: This is a repost of an old carnival, so I can't guarantee the links.

Welcome to the seventy-sixth Storyblogging Carnival. There are eight entries today. Enjoy.


Proceedings
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringeblog
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

A woman finds a note in her husband's pocket.


She's a Lady
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringeblog
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

A vamp finds a new lover.


The Last Journey
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringeblog
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

A well-traveled individual finds his jaded experience is no good to him on his latest and last journey.


Sunburnt
by the Dodges of Dodgeblogium
A 143 word brief story rated PG.

"Sunburn...it’s the heat from your lies."


The Five Second What???
by Madeleine Begun Kane of Mad Kane's Humor Blog
A 279 word brief story rated G.

Not everyone knows the five second rule.


Thag Grok Free Will!
by Mark Rayner of The Skwib
A 500 word brief story rated PG.

The continuing adventures of the caveman Thag: in this story, he wrestles with the difficult question of free will vs determinism.


My Friend Peter
by Ian Welsh of The Agonist
A 993 word brief story rated G.

My clothes were threadbare, and I would look in the mirror and I could already see myself at fifty, living the same hand to mouth, job-to-job life. Through it all two people helped me; two people stuck by me and never made me feel worthless. One of them was Peter.


Paparazzi Fodder
by Elvis D of 365Fiction
A 1,861 word short story rated R.

A disturbing tale about disturbing people.





This concludes the seventy-sixth Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival LXXV

NOTE: This is a repost of an old carnival, so I make no promises that the links will still be good.

Welcome to the seventy-fifth Storyblogging Carnival. There weren't many entries this time around, possibly due to the summer doldrums. Still, we have four stories this time, including one of my own. Enjoy.


Sage of Wales Writes...
by Andrew Ian Dodge of Dodgeblogium
A 317 word brief story rated PG-13.

The sage is inspired by song.


Thag Not Talk Much!
by Mark Rayner of The Skwib
A 450 word brief story rated PG-13.

The continuing prehistoric saga of Thag. In this episode, Thag unveils his cave art that he's painted for the Drunka Grunka tribe, and they wonder why he won't talk about it.


Abort! Abort! Abort!
by Elvis D of 365Fiction
A 1,160 word short story rated R.

A paparazzo's tale.


The Hunter of Shades
by Donald S. Crankshaw at Resident Aliens
A 5,307 word short story rated PG-13.

Searching for the dark things which are killing his people, the Hunter finds something unexpected.


This concludes the seventy-fifth Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival LXXIV

NOTE: This is an old post, so I can't guarantee the links.

Mark Rayner has the latest Storyblogging Carnival posted at The Skwib. Eleven stories this time, with a breakfast theme.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival LXXIII

Welcome to the seventy-third Storyblogging Carnival. Enjoy.

The Mouse Killer
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

About a cat who behaves much like a person.

The Return
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

Fallen angels seek a laborious, but poetic return to Heaven.

Conscience
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

Conscience as a skin condition.

Rogue Signals
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

In the future, containment is the only option, even at the expense of beauty.

A Lamb on the Lam
by Madeleine Begun Kane of Mad Kane's Humor Blog
A 100 word brief story rated PG.

News story in limerick form.

The Turtle and the Rabbit
by Phil at Phil for Humanity
A 212 word brief story rated G.

A fable about reverse discrimination.

Necklace
by Jolanda Dubbeldam at Reason and Rhyme
A 346 word brief story rated G.

A caring woman is angry at an uncaring man who caused her to fire a family man.

The Monkey’s Tail, as Told by Marcel Duchamp the Day After Charles Lindbergh Landed at Le Bourget Field
by Mark Rayner of The Skwib
A 500 word brief story rated PG.

The last Dadaist pursues his absurd desire to have a tail.

How Potter Ends...
by Andrew Ian Dodge of Dodgeblogium
A 520 word brief story rated PG-13.

A vision of how the Harry Potter series might end.

Uprising
by Elvis D of 365fiction
A 1,553 word short story rated R.

Home robots keep the peace--sorta.

Chain
by Elvis D of 365fiction
A 1,882 word short story rated PG-13.

The story of a misplaced cigarette.

Generations
by Elvis D of 365fiction
A 1,917 word short story rated PG-13.

A young man discovers his grandfather's secrets.

Tales from the Riverbank
by Riversider of Save the Ribble
A 2,000 word short story rated PG.

In this humorous tale, two friends kayak their way down the river Ribble, then ride the tide back home again.


This concludes the seventy-first Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival LXXII is online

NOTE: This is a re-post of an old post, so I can't guarantee the link.

I meant to get this up sooner.  There was a problem with the permalink at first but it should be fixed now.  Anyway... the latest Storyblogging Carnival is up at Dodgeblogium.  Thanks for hosting it, Andrew, and I apologize for not getting the link up earlier.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival LXXI

NOTE: This is a re-post of an earlier carnival, so I make no promises about the links.

Welcome to the seventy-first Storyblogging Carnival. This one is a bit unusual as a number of entries come from a single writer, Jeremiah Lewis. Jeremiah's a great writer, but because of technical problems, some of his submissions to recent carnivals were lost, so we're putting them all in this one. Since they're all part of his fifty word series, they're all really short. Enjoy.

The Weekend After
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe
A 50 word brief story rated R.

Reflections on a violation.

Marketing Education
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

An executive makes the evening news.

Ancient Vessel
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

A valuable antiquity, overlooked.

Entertainment is a Killer
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe
A 50 word brief story rated R.

The secret life of clowns.

Marriage Proposal
by Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe
A 50 word brief story rated PG.

For some things, only a shotgun will do.

Jesussic Park
by Mark Rayner of The Skwib
A 800 word brief story rated PG-13.

Imagining what the Sermon on the Mount would have sounded like if there were raptors (and a T-Rex).

Crippled
by Elvis D of 365fiction
A 1,398 word brief story rated R.

The ultimate test of artificial intelligence.


This concludes the seventy-first Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.

Figuring out the tricks

Old Post: I talked about buying a new laptop in this post.

So my new computer has arrived.  It is, as I mentioned in my previous post, a Dell Inspiron M101Z, running the  64-bit Windows 7.  I'm still figuring it out, which means, among other things, working out the tricks.  I have the cheaper version, with the slower processor, but so far it seems to do what I need it to, which is mainly web surfing and writing.

The first thing I did when I got it was install the software I wanted.  It comes with Internet Explorer and the starter versions of Word and Excel (which lack the full functionality and contain ads).  I've never been a fan of Internet Explorer.  That said, I've been playing around with the starter version of Word, and there are a lot of things I like about it.  The continuous ad in the bottom right corner gets on my nerves, however, and it hasn't been enough to convince me to buy the full version.  Maybe someday I'll be willing to shell out $120 for it, but not yet.

So for now, I've downloaded Firefox and OpenOffice, an open source browser and office suite respectively.  Firefox is top of the line, and OpenOffice has the same functionality of Microsoft Office 2003, so it has the advantage of familiarity (it also has some odd quirks, but I've managed okay so far).  I also installed Framemaker, an old Adobe word processor that I like, and which is still the core software I use for writing my novel.  It gave me some trouble, as the install program wouldn't run on the 64-bit Windows 7, but I was able to get it working just by copying the files.

Speaking of Adobe, I wasn't able to install Adobe Acrobat 6, which I had lying around.   There are known compatibility issues.  I took a look at what a compatible version, Acrobat 9, would run me, and quickly decided that $300 was outside my price range.  Instead, I installed PrimoPDF, which gives me the PDF printer for free, which was the main thing I needed. I still miss Acrobat, but I may try NitroPDF (free trial, $70 to buy) rather than Acrobat.

Anyway, I said I was figuring out the tricks, didn't I?  Well, here's a few I'm finding useful.
  1. The touchpad accepts more than simple gestures.  For example, if you use two fingers at once you can scroll through documents.  You can also use gestures to zoom, rotate, and flip forward and back, but I'm finding that most software is not compatible with those.
  2. While these features of the touchpad are nice, I find that when I'm typing, the heel of my hand has a tendency to brush the touchpad.  If this is interpreted as moving the cursor, then that's not much of a problem.  However, the touchpad sometimes interprets it as a two-finger touch and scrolls the document, causing me to lose my place.  Fortunately, pressing F6 will turn the touchpad off and on.  I find myself using that to deactivate it while typing.
  3. Pressing F3 will call up the battery controls, and under the Battery Life tab, you can turn off battery charging.  Why would you want to do that?  I've ruined batteries before by constantly charging them, due to using my laptop plugged in.  Batteries have gotten better, and laptops smarter about charging, but I like having the option.  The computer reminds you that charging's turned off every time you wake it up, so you're unlikely to forget to charge it.  You're much more likely to forget and leave charging on.  (In an ideal world, there would be a setting that would prevent the battery from charging until its charge dropped below 90%.  Then it would charge until full, and turn off charging again until it dropped below 90%).
So those are the tricks I'm using to get my computer running how I like it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival LXX

NOTE: This is a re-post of an old carnival, so I can't guarantee the links.

Welcome to the seventieth Storyblogging Carnival. If you're wondering, I did delay this carnival by a week in order to get a few more entries. That was enough to bring us up to five entries. Enjoy.

Only in Queens, New York
by Madeleine Kane at Mad Kane's Humor Blog
Less than 100 word limerick rated G.

Story in limerick form about a Queens, New York encounter with a cop.

Thag Grok Cow!
by Mark Rayner of The Skwib
A 351 word brief story rated PG-13.

Thag continues his sabbatical with the Drunka Grunka tribe, where he learns that everybody is a critic.

The Quiet Bar
by Elvis D of 365fiction
A 925 word brief story rated PG.

The new boss puts in an appearance.

But there were times, Dear...
by Postmodern Sass of Postmodern Sass
A 1,083 word short story rated PG.

It's about the Dean of my college, who died.

Displaced in Time
by Patrick G Cox at Dodgeblogium
A 2,977 word short story rated PG.

A time travel story.


This concludes the sixty-ninth Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.

It's not just terrific, it's tenebrific

I find that I know most of the words which thefreedictionary.com publishes in its Word of the Day.  Today's word, tenebrous, was no exception.  It means dark and gloomy.  What caught my eye was the word listed as the synonym: tenebrific.  Now that's a word I've never seen before.  So I checked the definition: thefreedictionary says it means dark and gloomy.  Well, I guess that's to be expected, since it was listed as a synonym to a word that means exactly that.  Not completely satisfied, I went to dictionary.com, where I got a significantly different definition: producing darkness.  I like that.  That I can use.  But I'm not so sure people will understand what definition I want when the dictionaries say different things (I will point out that another source, which gives the definition as "dark and gloomy," then goes on to use tenebrous, rather than tenebrific, in their example sentence, but I think the source is more thesaurus than dictionary).

Ah, well.  I still like the word, and I hope someday to make the "producing darkness" definition the accepted one.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival LXIX

NOTE: This is a re-post of an old carnival, so I can't guarantee the links.

Welcome to the sixty-ninth Storyblogging Carnival. We have four entries this time, but a number of them are significantly longer than usual, so there's plenty of reading material. Enjoy.

Loneliness
by Fred Vaughan at Reason and Rhyme
A 650 word brief story rated PG.

Ray finds himself minimizing his good fortune with statistics and analogies to discovery.

The Ark
by Andrew Ian Dodge of Dodgeblogium
A 956 word brief story rated PG.

So you thought you knew what Noah was on about...

At Recess, There will be Worms
by Mark Rayner of The Skwib
A 2,500 word short story rated G.

A semi-autobiographical story about April worm-flinging and other childhood rites of passage.

Bangkok Adrenaline
by Conan Stevens of World's Biggest Action Hero?
A 25,075 word screenplay rated G.

"This is a script I wrote, which has been filmed and is due for cinema release in Sept. The script is about 4 broke foreigners living in Thailand coming up with a plan for some easy(?) cash."


This concludes the sixty-ninth Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's ÜberCarnival.