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Category Archives: Story related

Question: Ever have a conversation that goes something like this?

 

“What’s the obsession with secret passages?”
“Huh?”
“In stories, every old house has a secret passage hidden away somewhere. Why’re people so preoccupied with something so impractical?”
“Dude, did you ever play CLUE as a kid?”
“Yeah, once or twice. My brother and I were really too young to understand the actual rules, so we mostly just played around with the little fake weapons that came with it.”

 

Answer: NO! No one questions the awesomeness of secret passages.

Now, questioning the practicality of secret passages is another matter altogether, but that’s not why I want to talk about them. The secret passage is a staple trope in fiction, and is surprisingly common in real life, depending on the location of a building and the era in which in was built. Case in point: the more literal aspects of the Underground Railroad. Hidden doors and tunnels crop up everywhere. Even Alexander Dumas was subject to using them in his work, even if it meant using only a partially accurate location to describe an existing tunnel. “But Dumas was not a man to waste a good subterranean passage.”

I’ve always loved tunnels and caves. Kind of a claustrophilia, if you will. When I was growing up, I would dig tunnels in snowbanks during the winter. When a wind storm created a massive pile of tumbleweeds against the trees at my local park, my sister and I (along with some of the other neighborhood kids) dug in and built an enormous tunnel and fort in them. When we got a new refrigerator, I was thrilled to get the cardboard box it came in. I cut a doorway and windows in it, put it over the top of my bed, and turned it into a Calvin and Hobbes-esque spaceship. My older sisters and I shared an adjoining closet with a bookshelf separating the two halves, and we could sneak into the other bedroom by climbing over or around the shelf. When we were installing a new center pivot sprinkler on one of our fields, we had to install the power cables and such in pipe that was going to be buried underground. This pipe was in two sections in our shop for a portion of the winter, a ten-foot length and a twenty-foot length. At fifteen inches in diameter, it was just big enough for me to crawl through. My little sister and I took turns making our way through them.

This is what I think of when you say sprinkler.

This is what I think of when you say sprinkler.

In college, I learned that I could fit through the campus housing office’s parcel boxes. Suffice to say they ceased use of them, since it meant that people like me (read: skinny bastards with too much free time) could access staff-only areas through said parcel boxes.

In my mind, every one of these things was a special pathway. It didn’t matter if the tunnel didn’t lead to Narnia or Hogwarts. Even if somebody else knew about the passage, I didn’t care. I was thrilled that I had something I could do that not everyone else could.

I wanted the stories about secret passages to be true. I wanted to live in the CLUE mansion, because it had not one, but TWO secret passageways. I’ve researched sites like these and dreamed of building a house complete with at least one hidden doorway. Now that my sister is an architect, I might be one step closer to that dream. It may not end up being like House of Leaves (though I’m totally okay with that, I don’t need a sentient house [at least not a malevolent one, anyway]). I’ll settle for a hidden closet, or secret writing room. Until then, I’ll read more, and I won’t question anyone else who loves secret passages as much as I do.

 

 

 

Election day has come and gone. I have mixed feelings about the results, but I’m feeling positive for Colorado overall. That’s about as political as I’m going to get here, at least as far as real-world politics go. However, it did get me to thinking about the concept of politics within fictional realms.

Some stories revolve almost entirely around political intrigue. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the most prominent examples of this today. With plot details inspired by The War of The Roses, among other things, ASOIAF is filled with characters who live for gain of power and wealth. They don’t care if they have to spy, steal, or murder to achieve it, and no one will stand in there way, neither kings nor innocent children.

Writers like Tom Clancy became famous for writing thrillers inspired by real-world political events, focusing on them in a modern setting. Drug wars, assassinations, and bids for the US presidency serve as the core for Clancy’s books. Events could easily be pulled from headlines and adapted to fit a plot, provided that it be done carefully.

How much sway should politics hold over your story? That’s really up to you. Do you want your piece to become an Author Tract, where it’s little more than a way to express your opinions via fictional characters? That’s okay, it can be done well. Do you want your piece to be critical of existing political systems in the real world? Or would you prefer to establish a new system as a thought experiment?

Frankly, I like the idea of trying all of them on for size, along with things that involve a complex world without getting into politics whatsoever. Developing a somewhat functional political system can be a fun part of world building, but be sure that you don’t let it overwhelm the story.

A few days ago, Kristen Lamb posted an article on her blog, discussing the problem with editing in mid-writing. I just found it via twitter today, but I think it’s a phenomenal piece on the importance of writing for the sake of writing, and not taking the time to edit until you’re done. This goes beyond NaNoWriMo, and is a great reminder to all of us that there is, whether we like it or not, a definite order to things. Write now, edit later. If you’ll excuse me, I have some writing to do. It is still November, after all.

I’m doing well enough. Better than my girlfriend, I’m afraid. She’s had a rough week of work, as her latest post will tell you. As for me, I’m behind on NaNo again, but I’ve got time today and tomorrow to catch up. I’ve got some pre-fabricated bits of story that I’m going to be able to drop in, so for those of you who’d like to get a taste of what’s to come, check out The Tale of the Sun and Moons Part I and II. The bonus of that is that it’s nearly 1,000 words in rough draft form that I can use to supplement whatever I get around to writing today. Good thing I have Rush to listen to.

I’m sore as hell. My arms are pretty toasted from yesterday. I had the opportunity to fire a handgun for the first time. Now I grew up in a small farming community, so I’m no stranger to firearms and general safety requirements for them. I first learned to shoot with a .22 Winchester, alongside my sisters, under the watchful eye of my father. Several years later, I learned how to handle a 12 gauge pump action shotgun, and eventually a 10 gauge bolt action shotgun built for hunting geese. This was a completely different world. I was using a 9mm Beretta, and it was incredible. I’m not the best shot in the world, and I’ll fully admit that right now. Using the .22 would have been another story altogether, but it was my first time ever using a gun that I could operate with one hand. I’ll get better with practice. At least I hit the target. 😀 I don’t own a gun of my own, and I would love to be able to avoid using one in self defense, but it’s nice to know that I could handle the kick and whatnot of something like that.

It’s difficult to maintain my writing level for NaNoWriMo when Westeros keeps calling me back. I’m now about halfway through the 4th book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, A Feast for Crows. I want to keep reading until the end, but I know that it’s going to be a while before we see the 6th book, and I’m closing in fast on A Dance With Dragons. I know I’ve said it before, but seriously, this series is the best fantasy I’ve read in years. Words cannot describe how much I love these books. I’m not one who is often at a loss for words. I hope that I can come close in terms of the man’s ability to build characters that you’ll grow fond of and learn to understand. Honestly, even his villains get to be sympathetic at times. It’s crazy brilliant.

There may actually be something happening on the job side of things. I may be a step closer to Goal #1. My current job is 19 hours a week. This means, due to the joy that is human resources, I do not qualify for benefits. Not at all. I would need to work one more regularly scheduled hour/week to get that. That’s just the way things go, and most of the people who have worked or are working less than 20 hours/week are not pleased with it. However, one of my coworkers is currently employed 24 hours per week. She’s also around eight months pregnant, and will be leaving us shortly. It wouldn’t be ideal, but her position would be open, and I’d be able to apply, and it would be far better than where I am now. Additionally, another coworker was interviewing today for a position at another branch. If she gets this job, I’ll be applying for her 40/week position. *fingers crossed*

Last but certainly not least for the day, is this. I’m a huge fan of R.E.M. Additionally, I’m a big fan of Stephen Colbert. Today, I found something that I didn’t expect, considering that the band recently decided to break up. This. Anyway, I really should get going. I’ve got pumpkins to slice up in preparation for holiday baking, and a lot of words to crank out to catch back up for NaNoWriMo. Good luck, everyone.

It is a fool who does not set goals for himself. A greater fool still is he who fails to accomplish said goals.

This much being said, I’m setting some goals for myself. Some of these are short-term, others may take a little longer, but ideally, all will be met within the next year.

1.) Employment. Gainful employment. I love my part-time job at the library, but it’s only part-time. Granted, I have time for writing and whatnot, but that’s not really all that useful at the moment, when I’ve got student loans and whatnot to pay off. I’d like to secure a full time position somewhere, or at least a 2nd part-time job that will work around my library schedule. This is step one, because a great deal of my goals will be derived from income earned via said employment.

2.) Living arrangements. I want to be in my own place (or at least a shared place) before Thanksgiving. Seriously. Having a little bit of space to myself would be a great boon to my writing/editing plans. See step one. Work arrangements will probably precede housing, since I need to know where I’ll be working to know what I can afford each month, and have a good idea of what kind of commute I might be facing,  especially with winter approaching.

Ned Stark gets all scientific-like.

3.) Get a new computer. I love my Dell, but it’s over four years old, and is a pretty well-traveled laptop. It’s holding up remarkably well, but I’m afraid that it’s nearing the end of its functional lifespan. I’m planning (admittedly probably too far in advance) to replace it with a desktop/netbook pair. I want a custom-built desktop for all my gaming, music, videos, and whatnot. The netbook would be for portability. That way I could write on the go, and still have a couple of decent games with me as well. The price keeps dropping on the little guys, and for what I spent on my current laptop, I could get said desktop plus a netbook that would have all the memory and functionality of my current machine. Crazy how that goes. Again, though, see step one.

4.) Propose. She’s incredibly patient, that girl. The biggest boon of financial stability would be this. I could finally feel like I can ask her to marry me, and know that I can support us both.

5.) Get published. This one’s in the works. We’ll have to see what the editors at Strange Horizons think. Getting any industry notice is big. If they say no, I’ve got other options.

6.) Write a novel. This one is also in the works, thanks to the upcoming NaNoWriMo event. I’ve had the idea for the main plot and most of the characters in my head since January, and they’ve been sharing a lot about their lives with me. When November gets here, I’m going to do my level best to get them all out onto the page. Step five will have a great impact on this novel’s future.

7.) Get in shape. If I can schedule time for writing, I can schedule time to work out. It’s not that I need to lose weight (those of you who have met me in person can attest to this), but that I want to be in better condition. I’m not exactly the most athletic person in the world. I’d like to at least get to the point where I’m not so apprehensive about exercise. Stupid P.E. classes screwed with my self-esteem way too much.

8.) Take full blog control. Those of you who know wordpress know that I’m doing this strictly via the free version of things. I’d love to be able to have the income to toss toward the upgrade, and have my own domain. It’s not that much, I know, but all the same, it’s an extra expense that I can’t quite justify right now.

9.) See Rush in concert. Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it? Still, who knows how much longer the guys will be touring? Right now, they’re at the absolute top of my to-see list, and I’m still kicking myself for missing a couple of opportunities recently.

10.) Travel. I’ve not done any real travelling since high school. I want to go somewhere I’ve never been before, whether it’s here in the U.S. or another country. I’ve still got 2 1/2 years before I have to renew my passport. It would be awesome to get a couple more stamps in it first. England is near the top of the list (thanks to English teachers and certain friends getting to go there). Germany is up there too, even though I’ve already been. I’ve got a lot of family there that I would like to see again. Then there’s the ever elusive Japan… I’ve already admitted that I’m an anime geek, haven’t I? Even if it’s just booking the trip, I’d like to get out of Colorado and go somewhere I’ve never been before.

Is ten enough? Too many? I dunno. I’ll figure it out, I guess.

Today’s been decently productive, writing-wise. I’m hammering out some of the big plot details of my upcoming book in the days before NaNoWriMo, and my characters are growing more vocal again. I’ve also found some really cool stuff. I’m sure you’re all aware of the Occupy movements that are going on around the country. In Boston, they’ve found a pretty awesome way to keep all of the Occupants informed and entertained. Behold, the tent library. This is quite possibly the coolest thing that’s ever happened at any protest, at least from a reader/writer perspective. If only all protests could be this well-served by the public. If only all protests actually made some semblance of sense. Well, we can dream, can’t we?

I’m getting ready to say goodbye to my home for the last year. Since I started college, this has been the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place. Granted, I lived on campus for four years, but there was always shuffling around from one side of campus to another, usually after nine months, and then again after three. This time I’ve actually managed to spend a full calendar year in one apartment. It’s absolutely bizarre.

I’m torn on the whole moving thing. I like solidarity, or at least, I did. I blame living in the same damn room for the first nineteen years of my life. Now I’m staring at a two day period in which I can pack up my stuff from my first real off-campus home. Naturally, I am choosing to write something at the moment instead of actually packing. This doesn’t surprise me. I’m guess that maybe I’m waiting for last-minute panic to sink in. My walls are bare. That’s a start.

I can’t wait to get a fresh start in a new home. I can’t wait to find my footing. I can’t wait to be able to set up my makeshift desk and get to writing. I’ll keep you informed. In the meantime, I’m knee-deep in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I’m loving it so far. It’s some of the best fantasy I’ve read in a long time. I’m also still, as always, pondering the questions that are shaping Aurellis as a world, and the people who inhabit it. Of late, there is one pressing question. Who is Rhu? I’m not sure yet. I don’t know any details about Rhu, or who he or she may be, but I feel that, regardless of these questions, Rhu is important.

Today’s post is very special. It’s my 50th post on this blog! This is my entry for the July Writing Challenge, which asked us to write a piece involving moons. A few months ago, I presented my readers with this, a dialogue-only introduction to some of the characters in the novel I’m writing. Here, at last, is the initial draft of the second half of the story that Zach started to tell back in April. I hope you enjoy it.

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The Tale of the Sun and Moons: Part II

Zach quietly made his way back to the fire, full mug in hand, and a grin on his face. “Are you all quite settled and ready for me to finish my story now?” he asked.

“Yes!” shouted Rebecca.

“Very well. As I said, there were two tribes of giants that roamed our world, in the time before there was even night and day. Now of these tribes, D’ossa and his fire giants controlled the most territory, but were slowly dying off. Zalar and his mate, Arkosa, ruled the frost giants, who, though numerous, were rapidly losing ground to D’ossa.

“Now D’ossa desired a mate, so that he could produce an heir, and female fire giants had been extinct for a century. D’ossa became enamored with Zalar’s wife, the frost giantess queen, and vowed that he would make her his. He knew that Zalar would never give up his wife freely, for the frost giant was no fool. Only by killing him could D’ossa hope to have his dreams realized. He rallied the few remaining fire giants to him, as he had given them his word that the fire giants would live on, if he could only take Arkosa for his own.

“The fire giants began a fierce attack against the castle of Zalar, and he personally led his own soldiers into battle against a smaller, but more ferocious force. For time uncounted, the combat raged on, until most of Zalar’s forces were defeated, and D’ossa stood alone, the last of the fire giants. D’ossa took his sword and slashed his way through Zalar’s castle. It was at this time that Zalar confronted his wife, Arkosa, and told her of D’ossa’s intentions. Two of his bravest guards took their place at the entrance to Arkosa’s chamber while the king hatched a daring plan to escape D’ossa.

“All too soon, the fire giant king had slaughtered all but the two remaining soldiers on the path to Arkosa’s chamber, and they stood before the door, their own swords crossed. As D’ossa locked blades with them, Zalar spoke to his wife, telling her that no matter what, he would always find a way to be near her. At that moment, D’ossa burst through the door, the blood of the king’s warriors on his sword. He entered the room just in time to see Lady Arkosa leap into the sky, leaving her king behind. King Zalar stood unarmed, waiting for D’ossa to act. In a silent rage, the fire giant followed into the sky, but her lead was too great. She would ever outpace him.

“Zalar took the swords of his most loyal fallen guards and the abandoned blade of D’ossa, and placed them in the ground before the entrance of his castle. Then, he too took to the skies, eternally pursuing the fire giant who pursued his queen. So it was that D’ossa became our world’s sun, and Zalar and Arkosa became her moons, ever chasing one another across the sky, fire and frost.”

Some days, there are things that you just can’t get out of your head. When this happens, I like to share it with you, that way you can have these things stuck in your head too! Ain’t I just the greatest?

Number 1 on today’s link list is this video by Julian Smith. This video has inspired my desire to build a house with a secluded reading room even more than most of those library pictures I post.

Number Last (What? It’s a short list.) on today’s link list is this article from cracked.

On a story related note, I’ve been writing dialogue. As V has told me, characters will talk to each other far more readily than they will talk to me. This means that determining what situation they’re in at any given time is framed by their conversations. It helps me to get inside the characters’ heads, while still maintaining an outsider’s perspective on it. It’s fascinating to watch a world unfold in front of me. Arsus and Rime still bicker, but they’re getting more friendly with one another as time passes. I’m working on a really fun scene with the two of them right now, but they’re both a little shy to talk about it. I am taking it that this means it must be REALLY good. 😀 Landara’s relationship with Rebecca is shaping up very much like Ripley/Newt, as I predicted. I think that there’s going to be a twist here that they’ve not yet told me about. I’m still waiting. Miles is sitting over in the corner, sulking, smoking a little cigar. I can feel the heat of the matches and the burning tobacco as he inhales. Zach wants to tell another story, but everyone else is busy, so he’s sitting quietly, just gazing up at the stars.

I read a couple of books the other day. I finally finished Boneshaker, a steampunk novel by Cherie Priest, that’s a great adventure. I also sat down for an hour and read The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I set a new personal record for a book that’s over 500 pages, but don’t go calling Guinness or anything (the book people, not the beer people). It’s a great book, very deserving of the Caldecott it won. Those of you who know that the Caldecott is for illustrated books will be pleased to know that these incredibly intricate charcoal-style drawings make up over half of the book’s pages. They’re very reminiscent of the work of William Kentridge, a man whom I have attempted to emulate in my own drawings. The book is fantastic, a great read, and actually very historical. I can’t wait to see how the movie adaptation works out. I’m still working my way through Left Hand of Darkness, and then next up on the list is Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy graphic novels. Aww yeah.

“Sing in me, muse, and I’ll tell the tale of our sun and moons, and the tragedy that caused them to flee from their homes on this world…”

“Why do you always start like that, Zee?”

“Like what, young one?”

“The whole ‘sing in me’ bit. What’s that all about?”

“Will you let me finish the story without interrupting again if I tell you?”

“Yes!”

“I suppose I have no choice, then.”

“Well, you just always start that way.”

“Very well, Miss Rebecca. I start my stories with ‘sing in me, muse’ because it is the classic opening for all great stories. It is a statement invoking the gift of inspiration, asking humbly for the spirits of the ancient ones to speak through you, to give clarity and meaning and power to your words.”

“Oooh. What’s a muse?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! It’s a spirit of inspiration. Weren’t you listening? Young lady, if you don’t pay attention, I’ll just go back to my tent and go to sleep.”

“No! Don’t, Zach, please finish!”

“No more interruptions?”

“None from me. Miles, Landara, will you be quiet too?”

“All I’ve been doing is listening, and watching the pyro over there torch things.”

“And I’ve told YOU, oh fierce warrior, that I am NOT a pyro. My inn burned down in a brawl that you and your friends started, so…”

“Quiet!”

“Thank you, Rebecca. Now, if you’ll all be patient, I’ll actually tell this story.”

“Landara, Miles, you guys listen too. Zee is a great storyteller. Oh!”

“Yes, little one?”

“Should I go find Mr. Rime and Mr. Arsus too?”

“No, that  won’t be necessary. Mr. Arsus should know this story as well as I do, and Mr. Rime needs some time to relax. It’s been a long trip thus far, and we’re only a little more than halfway to Dhe’laza. He needs this more than any of us. Now, before I continue, I will thank you, sir Miles, for your recommending of this hot spring as a respite from our travels.”

“S’nothin. Friend o’ mine runs the place anyway.”

“Well then, I shall continue. We are here at a very special time. As you can see, both of our world’s moons are full tonight, a phenomenon that occurs but once every fifty years. We call it Twinlight. Now the sun and the moons of our world are very old indeed, but they were not always our sun and moons. In  a long forgotten time, they were giants that roamed this world.”

“Giants? Pft.”

“Shush, Landara, it’s true. Giants once walked the land, and evidence of this still stands embedded in the rocks near Dhe’laza. We’re only a few days from being able to see them. Now the giants walked this world long before the humans did. No one knows for certain where they came from, but we do know this. There were two main tribes, D’ossa’s fire giants and the frost giants led by Zalar. These two factions were often at odds, with D’ossa being brash, and Zalar being gentle, fighting back only when forced.”

“That’s a good thing, right?”

“Yes, Rebecca. That’s a good thing. It’s an important lesson to fight only when you need to defend yourself. Now the hour is growing late. I am going to get a drink, and then we will continue this story.”

“Very well, Zach. We will wait for you here, and you can finish soon.”

(To be continued)

Yeah, we actually have one of those. It’s also Beverly Cleary‘s birthday. The woman responsible for giving the world Henry Huggins and his neighbor girls, “Beezus” and Ramona. In honor of her, I’d like to invite all of my readers to follow D.E.A.R. guidelines for at least half an hour today. Not “Drop everything and run!” as Ramona once blurted out in her usual boundless enthusiasm, but Drop Everything and Read. Read with a loved one, or a close friend, or even just by yourself. Shut down your computers (after you finish reading this post!), turn off your cell phones, and dedicate a nice, quiet half an hour (or more, if you like) to reading a good book.

I’d like to jump up on my soapbox for a minute (and hope it’s one that I’ve not turned into a car) and mention something that bothers me. No, it doesn’t bother me, it infuriates me, frankly. I hate book banning. I’m of the opinion that books should never be restricted, just because it has some things in it that one person might find offensive. I know that I don’t write what I do to please everyone. If I did, I’d never sell anything. I don’t write just for the sake of controversy either. I’m looking at you, Dan Brown. Put the pen down and step away from the paper, slowly. Thank you.

If there is one thing that I’m truly passionate about in my life, it’s books. I spend my days surrounded by them. I edit them. I try to write them. I dive head first into them and hope that they don’t forget to let me go at the end. Some people, however, decide that it is up to THEM to protect the innocence of everyone else by banning a book that they personally find offensive, and attempting to prevent anyone else from reading it. First of all, this only makes people want the banned stuff even more (remember a little thing called prohibition?). Second, it raises the anger level of anyone with a relatively normal amount of common sense. People, these books were written the way they were for a reason. They need to exist as is. Have you heard that they’re attempting to reprint Huckleberry Finn without the use of the word “nigger” in it? Are we attempting to gloss over racism and act as though it never existed? I call bullshit. I intend to fight the banning of books until my dying day. Anyway, I’m going to step off of my soapbox now (the brakes are starting to give way, and I’m on a bit of a hill…), but I’ll leave you with this. Have a list of the most recently challenged books.

If she were here, I’d read a book with my significant other, but we both have work that we need to do. At least we had the weekend to spend together, visiting family, bowling, and whatnot. Anyway, I plan to use the time as a distraction from my ever ongoing job hunt, my need to finish my taxes (they’re done, just need to be filed, don’t worry), and my attempts to actually be productive with my own writing and editing projects (sorry, V, you know how I do).

I’m building a pantheon. The gods of this world are fun to create, especially in their descriptions. For example, the head of my order of gods is a goddess, atypical for most “mainstream” pantheons. Does that make my gods and goddesses hipsters? Yikes…Imagine Zeus, or even better, old one-eyed Odin, with the hipster glasses and a case of PBR at his side. Well, despite not being mainstream, per se, I think it’s better. The queen of the gods is a badass lady, beautiful and terrifying at the same time, and wielding a large glaive against her foes. I’m tempted to make death and a god/dess of the harvest into a single character. I dunno. Too many options present themselves at the moment. Time to go hide in a bookstore for a few hours.