Review: A Borrowed Hell by L.D. Colter

July 23, 2017 0

Last week I was in the air, and as is often my way while flying, I read a lot of books. One of the books, L. D. Colter‘s A Borrowed Hell, was pretty good. Published by Shirtsleeve Press, A Borrowed Hell dives right into the world of Jungian archetypes while taking a cue from Dante’s Inferno.

You have to like your fantasy on the literary side if you’re going to take a journey with July Davish as he literally confronts his worst fears and inner demons. As a reader, I identify strongly with July and his trials, his emotionally absent father, troubled sister, and addicted mother. He’s the kid who’s going to save them all, and therein lies his problem.

While his life is falling apart, July sees himself as a stable center at its core, just as a man having a run of bad luck. But when his life is threatened in a car accident, July finds himself occasionally transported to a purgatory where he must be confronted by the issues of his life and work through them, promising no pat endings or easy answers. While he’s awake, he’s lucky enough to meet a partner worthy of his journey.

There are only two parts of the story where I am pulled out. There’s an intimation on July’s part that people who use Xanax are addicts, which is solid characterization, but is not true. (Sensitive Xanax user here!) Valerian, the aforementioned partner, is pretty special, but in a story this literary, their meeting is a pretty pat love at first site kind of thing.

Still. I love the characters. I like July, Valerian, and Bill. I like all the variations of Pat, the archetypes. The medical details are strong, the emotional journey is good, and Colter builds emotional tension throughout. Don’t overlook this book. It’s a hidden gem.

Review: Chalk by Paul Cornell

June 27, 2017 0

Last year at Convergence, I heard Unreliable Alumni Paul Cornell read from an upcoming novel, Chalk. At the time, Cornell expressed he had been working on the book for a number of years. What Cornell read captivated and terrified me. Chalk more than delivered on the promise of the reading.

Chalk takes place in 1980’s England in Wiltshire.  Cornell and I are similar in age. I went to school in Scotland in 1978, the child of a local girl from Dunoon and a Yank sailor. In many ways, it was easy for me to feel the atmosphere Cornell was writing about, being in a similar place at a similar age. And another dimension disturbed me deeply–while my brief time at Dunoon Grammar School was pleasant, most of my school experience in Iowa was harsh and hard. Chalk sounded depths in me as it married and blended so many of my own experiences, not in specifics, but in emotions. I am certain I am not the only reader who has thought so.

The challenge Cornell has taken on is to tell the story with brutal honesty. This isn’t a story about a strange victim concocting revenge, or a heroic boy overcoming the odds of difficulty. This is the story about someone maimed in body and spirit stumbling to find their way through trauma. The boundaries of what is real and what isn’t melt and twist. Even the narrator, especially the narrator of the story, doesn’t know. For such a speculative piece, this grounding in psychological reality makes the work a masterpiece.

Some are saying Chalk is literary more than speculative. It is definitely both, a cross genre work that satisfies this English professor on many levels, and the troubled child I was on many more. The truth of the story, the reflection of the uneasy adolescence, and unflinching portrayal of the past make this book a must read, if a difficult one.

Not a Review of Wonder Woman, But…

June 15, 2017 0

The Narrators might be planning to do a review of Wonder Woman, so I’m not going to do that. This post, instead, is about seeing one of my favorite fictional characters realized on the big screen. I’m going to have to tell you, then, about my 44-year relationship with Diana, princess of the Amazons.

My first Wonder Woman comic was a gift from my parents. It was a giant-sized treasury edition of the early World War 2 comics. I look at those comics with adult eyes, and I cringe at the portrayal of Germans and Japanese. My child eyes focused instead on a woman hero. I had been watching a steady diet of Yvonne Craig being Batgirl on the 1960s Batman, as well as watching Emma Peel in syndication on the British Avengers television show, so I was primed to think of myself as a woman of action in my pretend time. But Princess Diana of the Amazons? Well, she was different. And it wasn’t just that Diana was more brightly colored. Honestly, it was because I had finished reading the Children’s Encyclopedia of Folklore and Mythology and I was hooked on the Greek Gods.

Suddenly in my hands were two of my favorite things: Greek mythology and an action heroine paired together. After that first giant comic, Wonder Woman returned to a monthly comic. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had just shed Emma Peel like martial arts action running a groovy clothing boutique and returned to her comic book persona, rejoining the Justice League through a series of self-imposed labors, like Hercules, while her male colleagues judged the success of her completion of them. Um…missed the problems with that as a kid too. Instead, I loved the way she lassoed her costume on and off, and thought that it would be cool to be both a super hero and an employee at the United Nations…at the same time!

All things Wonder Woman were to come into my hands. Reprints of old stories, the new comics, whatever I could find. Happiness and ecstatic glee were mine when I found out that there would be a pilot for a Wonder Woman series. Unhappiness and frustration replaced my feelings when Wonder Woman was blond and the story wasn’t anything like the comic books.  But in a few more years, well, cue Linda Carter.

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The Year of Living Authorly Post 12: The Future Comes Knocking

May 30, 2017 0

Recently, my agent asked me to send her some pitches for some new projects. This is another thing that is different for me as a publishing author–Strategic Planning.

Right now, I am still working diligently on the Klaereon sequel, and I plan to finish it by the end of the summer. There will be a short interlude for a short story, but then what next? This is the space where strategic planning comes in. By sending my agent, someone who is a marketplace specialist, several proposals for new projects, we can make an educated guess about which one of the projects might be smart to develop next.

The short summary, pitch, and query letter skills all come into play here, so some of the techniques I have already learned had quite a workout last week. I found that I enjoyed the process, as the Venn diagram overlap between creativity and organization is this very sweet spot. The technical writing masters also comes in handy here.

This is a sign post on the road that denotes working with your agent and strategically developing your next project is, in fact, a mark of writing as a career. Crossing into a writing career is a new piece of the overall puzzle, and I have been “careering,” so to speak, with editing, formatting, and planning book support, but this new piece speaks more to the future than any other piece has.

Let’s see what the future holds!

Review: Samurai Jack Season 5

May 16, 2017 0

We’re just about at the end of Samurai Jack season five. For those of you not in the know, creator Genndy Tartakovsky created the original Samurai Jack, which aired for four seasons, from 2001-2004, without a conclusion. The first show was largely a series of interconnected vignettes, Jack and his arch enemy Aku the glue that tied the show together. A mere 12 years later, Tartakovsky decided to give the show an ending, and we have 10 22-minute episodes with incredibly tight story telling to enjoy.

Samurai Jack has always been on the cutting edge of animation, having one several awards for outstanding animation. Entire episodes have been in black and white, or used outlines. It always takes avant garde risk and pushes the envelope not only in animation, but in music as well. This particular season surprises and compels. It is designed for adults. Adult Swim on Cartoon Network has always aired the show, but this season is the first where Jack has killed–and suffered psychological fall out for it.

You might wonder if you can make sense of Samurai Jack without watching the original. You can. However, knowing the original story helps you appreciate layers, especially in the episode where Ashi searches for a despondent Jack and we see how many people Jack has helped over the years.

Season five is a worthy ending, standing alone, but enhanced by what has gone before. If you do not get Cartoon Network, the show can easily be purchased on Amazon.

Review: The Monkey King

April 29, 2017 0

Sometimes I watch films over my husband’s shoulder. The other night Bryon was watching The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven, a 2014 film starring Donnie Yen as the Monkey King. It looked pretty good, so yesterday I watched it with no shoulders in the way. For those of you who don’t know the story of the monkey king, this primer will get you up to speed. The Journey to the West sequence most folklorists are familiar with begins in The Monkey King 2, and there are plans for The Monkey King 3 to be released soon.

A critical overview of The Monkey King‘s reception in the United States points to what seems to me to be a lack of understanding about Chinese culture and cinema. Mind, I am certainly no expert, but I find the complaints of the movie lacking substance or the main character Sun Wukong of being annoying to be irritatingly groundless. In China it is the top grossing film of all time, and it is likely to be, as the story is as ingrained in the Chinese cultural conscious as Superman is in our own. Except, imagine if Superman had been around for some 500 years or so. Anyway, I think U.S. critics (and many viewers, if the Netflix ratings are to be believed) have no idea what to do with it.

From my perspective, it is a touching story. Cast aside all the special effects, and what you have is a story about an outsider trying to find his way in a world that is hostile to him, losing his love, and being used by people who do not have his interests at heart. Small wonder the Monkey King goes rogue at the end of the story, and that Sun WuKong can get his morality under control at all is some kind of miracle. It is a story of growth, redemption, and repentance. I dare you not to be touched when Sun WuKong tries to resurrect his dead friends, his enormous guilt for leaving them to try to gain acceptance in heaven weighing heavily upon his anguished shoulders. The story edits the original to make the Monkey King more sympathetic to good effect.

The special effects enhance the film. If you are not a fan of special effects like those found in The Sorcerer and the White Snake, that’s probably a good enough reason to not watch The Monkey King. Also, the film is in Chinese, and you are going to read subtitles, which is a turn off for many people. Personally, I am a snobby foreign film viewer, so this is only a plus for me. I don’t do English dubs. I didn’t do The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo U.S. style either.

So, this viewer is looking forward to The Monkey King 3, as well as completing my viewing of The Monkey King 2, which I’m about half way through. Check it out for yourself. Don’t let the reviewers fool you. This could well be one of my favorite films. EVER.

Review: Story Genius by Lisa Cron

April 13, 2017 0

Fellow Unreliable Chia and I were talking about writing. I have finished the third draft of The Pawn of Isis, and my very kind first readers have been steadily getting feedback back to me, so I’m getting ready to revise. I have a couple of ways I revise. I have been using some of the methodology from Blueprint Your Best Seller by Stuart Horowitz. I really like the way that book makes you really look at scenes and evaluate them, center on a theme, and reorder and rewrite. It’s a lot of work, but (re)writing is a lot of work, so there you go.

Then Chia asked me if I’d heard of Story Genius by Lisa Cron. No, I had not, I said. Chia said she was going to read it, but she had to take it back to the library. I said I’d look into it.

Already, based on some feedback, I have decided that the book may need another POV, due to some of the important stuff happening off stage. So I rolled up my sleeves and decided to add some new scenes. I realized I was just adding scenes, and not necessarily solving problems. That’s when I wandered into Barnes and Noble, went to the writing section, and picked up Story Genius. I devoured the book over the next two days.

All writer advice works for different writers. I saw some less than favorable reviews on Goodreads, but I, on the other hand, liked it so well that I feel a bit like a zealot. Bear with me. This could help revitalize writing and revising for you, and might help you spend less time drafting. At least I hope so. Sometimes it takes me as many as 7-12 drafts to get a book right. I’m no Patrick Rothfuss, and I don’t want to turn out a book a week, but I think it’s got to go a bit faster if I want to publish regularly. I have hopes this might help me do this.

It’s all about character desire and misbelief, and connecting the external plot struggles with the internal emotional struggles of your character. There’s lots of good inventing advice, determining when to start the book, advice about writing the ending, working on scenes, so much good stuff.

I would advise you to go check it out yourselves. I find I like flipping back and forth as I use it, so you might want a paper copy. But if you are the kind of writer who really feels motivated by the emotional arc of story, and you want to reconnect with the fun of writing, this might be a good book for you. I can tell you I am now hungry to revise, and regret those days when I simply can’t fit writing in. It’s pretty heady to climb into the heads of your characters and their emotions. I had been getting bogged down in the wheres and why for of plot, and this is generating the plot according to emotions.

I can’t say enough good things about this book, and I think I might owe Chia a drink or a fruit basket or something.

The Year of Living Authorly: Post 8 SFWA New Author Resources

March 28, 2017 0

Okay, okay. So I went to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, and hung out with a lot of faboo people. Who should I end up hanging out with, but SFWA president Cat Rambo? We were sitting out by the pool on Friday, and I was going into my song and dance about being a new author and needing to learn all about what to do for book tours and stuff like that. And she said, “Why don’t you go to the SFWA website?”

I’ll admit, I was like, yeah, why don’t I? Because you know, I was so busy reinventing the wheel, I forgot there were a bunch of chariot drivers already on the track. Sure, that happens. However, nice pirates, when they stumble onto a treasure trove share the booty. Yes, I know there aren’t a lot of nice pirates. Moving on…

Of course, you’ll be wanting to know how to get to the SFWA Website.

First of all, I’m an associate member of SFWA (thank you, Sean Wallace). So I have access to the SFWA boards. BUT there’s a lot of information for writers, even if you don’t have access to the boards. I’m seeing the following categories that might prove useful

Advice for New Writers

Building a Career

The Business of Writing

How to Sell Your Novel

Networking and Self-Promotion

Tips for Beginners

It looks like I need to do some reading. So, I will hit the books hard, and then I will do some compilation posts. Stay tuned, true believers.

I’d like to thank SFWA President Cat Rambo for pointing out the obvious to me. Also, thanks for the swell tattoo. Authors who give out tattoos are the best.

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