Monday, March 25, 2013

Of Apricot Pie

It has recently occurred to me that, on my nice new writing blog, all personalized and shiny, I've not actually posted any examples of my own writing. Pretty silly of me, don't you think? Anyway, I shall endeavor to remember this in the future and share with you some snippets, short-stories, and poetry in posts right here at Transcribing These Dreams. However, for the moment, allow me direct your attention to one of the coolest resources for homeschool writers (and homeschool graduate writers):

Apricot Pie. is a community constructed for homeschoolers especially designed for sharing writing projects such as essays, poetry, and stories in the making for editing, comments, and the general enjoyment of their peers. It also allows friends and family a chance to see what we/they/you have been up to.

I would strongly suggest you look around at the various authors present at this sight, most noticeably the 'Monthlies' (Monthly Writers, whose duty it is to post at least once a month...sometimes we fail at this.) There's a lot of great stuff there for your perusal. Fellow writer friends of mine you'll probably hear a lot about from this quarter in the future can also be found on this site, if you know where to look. (Example: fellow Blogger, Mary--whose Blog, The Writer's Lair, you'll find on the side bar here.)

On the other hand, I feel I must strongly caution you when you look at my own writings. The earliest story posted is my Original. The very first novel attempt I ever began, completed shortly after my first 'completed' novel, which was a NaNo. This story is not at all something I'm proud of, and though I've considered refurbishing and editing the old chapters, I've not yet done anything about them, and they are still there for all the world to see. It's really not a good story, or at all well-written, but as my Original Novel, it does occupy a rather dear place in my heart. :)

My current serial however....

(Please note the above art is a mere compilation of internet images I made for my own enjoyment. No copyright infringement is intended.)

Island of the Kahts, is something I've not yet been distanced enough by time and experience to become embarrassed over, so I encourage you to look it up if interested. The story of a group of adventurers sent on a mission to a mysterious island to seek out dangerous monsters, Island of the Kahts is a light-hearted adventure story, something of a novella.

Hope you'll have a chance to pop on over there and look up some of these fascinating writers with their prose and tales! Enjoy.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: The Runaway Princess

Title: The Runaway Princess
Author; Kate Coombs
Genre: Fairytale (light-hearted fantasy)
Rating: 4

The Runaway Princess, staring: Princess Margaret (Meg) and co-staring: a Good Lot of Princes—Mostly Awful, the Gardner Boy Cam, and Bandits Galore. This is a delightful tale spun from straw and gold. Princess Meg does not care much for the contest her father has rigged in exchange for half the kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage. Princes from kingdoms all over the world flock to Greeve in order to try their hands at slaying the kingdom’s dragon, ridding the wood of the kingdom’s witch, and capturing the raucous band of kingdom outlaws. Meg does not especially wish to marry any of the princes and convinces some friends to help her escape her parent’s custody in order to protect the very ones which the princes are trying to destroy.

In a good many mad dashes across forests, up and down mountains, and through various city streets, Meg, Cam, the maid Dilly, and their companions rush to get to the prince’s victims before the princes do—sometime succeeding and sometimes just, well…Watching frogs might be the best way to put it. Against them rise the handsome and debonair Prince Bain, as well as the rather ludicrous twin princes Dorn and Dagle, and the obviously villainous Prince Vantor. Unfortunately for Meg, Vantor is the one who quickly becomes the top competitor for her and one half of Greeve, through no merits of his own. In order to stop him, Meg meets the witch and her gaggle of frog friends, a young wizard with ominous airs, the leader of the Bandits and the extended Bandit family, and one crusty old dragon in the most literal sense.

The Runaway Princess made me laugh aloud like any well-told fairytale of its kind—the humorous sort that is, and not the nonsensical sort. Meg and her friends’ antics consistently caused them to blunder into one another and various princes as the tale progressed, causing quite a mess in the climactic scene.

Language free and not dealing with any depth in the realm of witchy magic, despite the witch’s prevalent role, Coombs’ work was a fantastic read and a light one as well. The perfect sort of book to enjoy on a long rainy or snowy day, when anything thicker than the Sunday Comics tends to bog you down. And that is not to say that The Runaway Princess lacked substance, as if was just an empty nothing without foundation, but it was a sweet and light sort of story. Where Tolkien is the meat and Lewis the salad and bread, The Runaway Princess might be considered a puffy pastry dessert.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Update on Our Temporary Guest

Here's a small update on our owl friend:

When "Bo" was dropped off at the local zoo, we were not only given zoo passes as thanks, but after asking for contact information so we could get updates on the owl, we received a call on Saturday.

The zoo's hospital staff confirmed that "Bo" was suffering from some sort of head trauma--very likely caused by a collision with a car that Tuesday night. They said they were having to force-feed the owl, which doesn't sound good to me, but they also said that they thought our feathered friend might very well make a full recovery and even be able to be re-released into the wild, rather than spend his days in a sanctuary.

I have no issues with wild animal sanctuaries. I think that they are wonderful and admire the people who dedicate so much time and effort to help those creatures which cannot return home. Still, I'm much more pleased with the fact that "Bo" might be able to fly completely free again some day soon.

That's all for now, then.

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding

Title: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Genre: Steampunk
Rating: 5

The Dark Unwinding, by Sharon Cameron, is an excellent example of the Steampunk genre and a beautiful tale.

The story opens with the main character, Katharine, traveling across the countryside from the oppressive realm of her aunt to the unknown estate of an insane uncle. We see at once that, while Katharine is a young woman of poise and dignity, she is also concocting a scheme which will, in the long run, provide her a place in a society which looks down its nose at her.

She is sent to her uncle’s home in order that his property and wealth will pass from him to her cousin, a spoiled boy whose newfound estate will be run by his aunt. But if all goes according to plan, that will soon change, and Katharine will find herself as the proprietor of her cousin’s inheritance. There is just the small matter of pronouncing her uncle unfit to manage his own affairs, and that soon proves to be more difficult than she bargained for.

Amid a crumbling mansion filled with empty rooms and strange characters, Katharine discovers a good many of surprises lying in wait for her. Her uncle is an inventor and his estate supports two villages—both of which are populated by people who will do almost anything to keep him where he belongs and keep their home safe. As Katharine learns more about her uncle and those closest to him, she begins to wonder if her plan can still move forward—without hurting a large number of people, some of which have begun to show her friendship.

All at once, life at the estate becomes everything she wants and it all balances on the edge of the knife she holds. But as she prolongs her stay in hopes of coming up with an answer, strange occurrences, acts, and midnight wanderings leave her doubtful that she is in full command of her own sanity.

As any story which deals in any part with madness, there is bound to be some darkness here, as the title of the story suggests. This darkness shadows the movement of the story but does not retract from the bright canvas of setting and characters that Cameron creates. The story line was surprisingly fresh and new, filled with light bouts of humor and dark twists of mistrust and questions. Cameron’s is a delightful voice in narrative, and she seamlessly weaves a tale which at once haunts and satisfies.

I’m not usually a fan of stories that deal with madness, simply because of their inherent darkness, but The Dark Unwinding is an exception. The darkness, in every case, eventually gives way to lighter matters, and the plot twists inbetween kept me up late at night. I loved this book and highly recommend it as a wondrous read.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hospitality for a Feathered Friend

Late Wednesday morning, my mother and I were driving to a funeral service and I was absent-mindedly gazing out the window as the fields turned to neighborhoods, town buildings, and then back to fields again. Snow had recently melted away to reveal muddy lawns and trash strewn ditches. It was in one of these ditches that I spied something more than your usual McDonald’s bag or beer can.

This something was large and brown and, as we passed by I realized, feathered. I knew at once that it was an owl, and considered the oddity of an owl in broad daylight, sitting in a roadside ditch. However, I decided that this occurrence, though somewhat odd, was not overtly strange. After all, the creature might have had a late hunt, or perhaps it was scavenging road kill—do owls scavenge? I asked myself. I had seen many owls during the daylight hours, though mostly perched on fence posts or tree, and I said nothing of the matter, figuring the bird would be long gone by the time we were going back that direction in the afternoon.

I was wrong.

Later that day we passed the same spot and, wonder of wonders, the owl was still sitting in the ditch. Struck by this, I sat without speaking in my seat for perhaps another block before starting, in an off-hand manner, to my mother something like this: ‘By the way, there’s what appears to be an owl sitting in the ditch back there. It’s been there all day.’

Curiosity aroused, my mother turned the car onto a side street and looped around to where I said the bird was. Spying it, she was as bewildered as I was, but both of us knew that something was wrong.

We half figured that the creature was already dead, as it had not seemed to have moved an inch all day. But most dead animals, on the other hand, don’t sit fully upright on the sloping bank of a muddy waterway.

My next thought was that perhaps this one was a remarkably well-formed dummy, the sort set upon barn roofs and lamp posts and warehouses to frighten mice and crows and whatever other pests the owner of the decoy was trying to be rid of. The problem with this came when we pulled into the empty driveway of the house beyond that section of ditch and watched the creature’s feathers rippling in the breeze. So it wasn’t constructed of wood or rubber or plastic, or any other synthetic material of the sort.

My last thought, was that somehow perhaps someone in the strange country we live in had an owl, for some unknown reason, taxidermied and this was a stuffed owl sitting there so complacently. As outrageous as that might sound, it was actually not much of a stretch for the imagination. And it would explain why a seemingly ‘real’ owl, if not necessarily ‘live’ was able to sit upright on the incline of the little wayside gulley. I thought perhaps the stuffed thing had been lost from a person’s vehicle while driving along.

In any case, the ditch happened to be across from the local Extension Center, where they have a goodly amount of information on agricultural issues and certainly should have the number of a conservation agent we could call. We parked and walked in, and while my mother was on the phone leaving a message for the agent, one of the ladies in the office and I walked out across the office lawn, the road, and down into the ditch.

The bird, dead or alive, was facing us. One eye was halfway open and the other peacefully shut. At the time, I forgot that owls can move their eyes somewhat independently, and assumed that this unnatural and cockeyed expression meant it was, indeed, quite dead. It was large and beautiful up close, and just as we stepped a few feet closer—now only about six feet away—a car slowed down on the road to see what we were gawking at. With the added activity around it, the owl slowly spun its head to face the road.

I couldn’t have been more shocked if it had leaped into the air. It was alive.

We returned to the office and my mother left another message for the agent, saying the animal was, for the moment, living. My brother drove by later and took this photograph of the poor thing in the ditch: (At this point in time, we didn’t know what we were going to do about the matter.)

As night came on and we had not heard back from the conservation agent, I felt mixed sensations of pity and guilt. I doubted that, left to its own devices, it would stand any chance of surviving the night. We made one last call to a family member of a friend who had once worked at a wild bird sanctuary and knew something about handling the creatures. Unfortunately, this person lived some hours away. But fortunately, she gave us some advice on what to do and I managed to find some similar information online.

So before it grew completely dark, we returned to the little gulley and my brother and I—armed with a cardboard box punched with air holes and a blanket—approached the creature we now knew to be a barred owl, like these:

The owl valiantly wriggled in protest, but there was little fight left in its cold bones. We deposited the creature into the box, used duct tape to seal it, and then tucked it in a back classroom of our church building until that evenings prayer service was over and we could take the owl home. Told not to try giving it food or water, we set it in a bedroom beside a heater…

…and waited to see what the morning would bring.

To our great surprise and wonderful delight, our feathered guest was still alive come morning and we renewed our attempts to find some professional care for him (or her, but I tire of referring to the owl as ‘it’). Especially since it is illegal to keep an owl as a pet, and we had no intentions of doing so.

After another sally of phone calls and phone tag and going in general telegraphic circles, we reached the conservation agent, who told us to call a local nature center, who told us to call a local zoo. At long last, the zoo said they could take the poor thing off our hands and get it the help it needed. Having done our best to keep the creature warm and as stress-free as possible, we had avoided handling it or even looking at it except for when transferring it to a larger, clean, and better equipped box—which is when this second photo was taken:

(And we had been given the go-ahead to provide it with water.) I wanted the picture, which was perhaps a bit selfish, but I did instruct my brother—who had the camera—to be sure the flash was turned off, which is why this picture is dark and grainy—also caused by my retouching in order to lighten it and make the owl considerably more visible.

We are worried for his health, for though he does not appear to have any broken limbs, in the picture of him in the ditch, his beak appears bloodied, and I thought I glimpsed the same thing when we gently lifted the old, small, and soiled box off of the animal after tucking it inside the bigger box. I’m hoping that perhaps this is a mild beak injury or something superficial, and not a sign that he has internal injuries

This morning he was transported to the local zoo where he can receive the care he needs. (Or she.)

Oh, yes...and while this is totally unofficial and I feel I must quote Monsters Inc., "Once you name it, you start getting attached to it!" We decided to refer to our former guest as Bo.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book Review~Falls the Shadow

Title: Falls the Shadow

Authors: Mary Ruth Pursselley, H. A. Titus, Elyn W. Marshe
Genre: Steampunk
Rating: 5

Falls the Shadow, written by a trio of Christian Speculative authors (Mary Ruth Pursselley, H.A. Titus, and Elyn W. Marshe), is a futuristic story set in the ever-gaining-popularity genre of Steampunk. If you imagine a world not so unlike our own, where technology has advanced to extraordinary levels of complexity and then imagine that every last piece of that technology was almost irrevocably damaged by a computer virus, then you can picture the world of Shandor Rei.

For many living in Shandor Rei, hope seems to have abandoned them along with the sciences they had come to depend upon so heavily. Books had become obsolete and many were lost. Those who struggle to rise above the chaos must decide whose side they will fight on as gangs and militias pave the way.

Enter Maricossa, an agent of the governing power of the White Tiger, ordered to find those books which have survived in order to destroy them. Maricossa, however, has ideas of his own for the use of such things, and shadows a group of orphans led by a feisty girl named Libby, who just so happens to know where the books are--and will do everything within her power to protect them and those people close to her. Caught in-between them is Skylar, a boy who longs to learn the forbidden art of reading and who stumbles into the midst of those who just might be able to teach him. As the White Tiger struggles for power and control, this strange trio is thrown together as they stage a desperate attempt to save what they love, fight for their freedom, and stand for what they believe in. If only they all believed in the same thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed Falls the Shadow, for a good number of reasons: First, because it is, quite simply, a wonderful tale of political intrigue mixed with the gritty struggles of street living, and all wrapped in the warm folds of a home in a library. The best stories are a combination of two things: Conflict and Heart. Inevitably, the two come together in one form or another, and Falls the Shadow clicked these elements seamlessly into place like a favorite puzzle.

It's not every day, either, that you come across a multi-authored project. Sometimes a pair of people will join forces and mix something up, but it is not often seen. And three authors combining? That's a feat on any level. Especially when you considered how most of us writerly folk function. We come up with an idea, mix in some pitiful people so that we can transform them into epic heroes, and we ruthlessly take control. We are, in many senses, like egotistical villains. Not in a bad way, of course, but in a manner which rarely leaves an opportunity for someone to come along and say: I think you should do this and, by the way, this is what my character is going to do.

Yet, as impossible as that may sound, that's exactly what Pursselley, Titus, and Marshe have done with this project. Each took a character and steered them through the varitable maze which is fiction. That's not the most difficult aspect, though. To create a more accurate picture, they guided these characters through a maze which requires each of the characters to press a level here, turn a dial there, in order to get the other two maze-runners through to the goal. The goal being, of course, the climax of the tale.

So, in short, this trio of authors have earned a fair amount of respect from me. Not just for the story--which is epic--but for the fact that they somehow managed to get through it together without killing one another. The same might not be said for their characters, however.

Also, the authors seem to be in good enough spirits to pen a sequel--coming up April 1st and titled Burns the Fire. (Which, quite frankly, I'm glad for, as Falls the Shadow ended on something of a cliffhanger and I'm not very patient when it comes to these sorts of things.)

Read the tale for yourself HERE, at the Lost Scribes blog.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review: Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King

Title: Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King
Authors: William Joyce and Laura Geringer
Genre: Children’s Fantasy
Rating: 3

I plucked this book from amongst its neighbors because of the Rise of the Guardians movie put out by DreamWorks which comes from this series of books. The movie looks to be a sweet and humorous tale of the mythological characters we see around many holidays and I plan on seeing it at some point. However, having read the book which started it all, I have to wonder why DreamWorks decided to take up this project.

Nicholas St. North, is the tale of its title character, as well as Ombric—the wise, kind old wizard—and Katharine—the girl whom Ombric cares especially for. North is a notorious bandit who dreams of riches, and those riches eventually lead him to Ombric. Aside from this trio, there is the sinister Pitch, a once-great hero now turned to a master of shadows and nightmares. It is also the story of a small boy who kept Pitch bound for years, a spectral child who carries about a moonbeam on a staff and protects children everywhere from being haunted by the Nightmare King.

When Ombric’s own protective measures for his home are turned against him, the lives of the villagers are at stake, and only North can turn the tides. And when her closest friends are taken by Pitch himself, Katharine is the one who sets out across the wide world to attempt a rescue.

This book, while harmless enjoyment and finding its own charm, was not particularly well written or told. The characters in it have little depth, the mystical things occurring have little if any explanation, and the voice of the narration was…shall we say, buoyantly enthusiastic. Enthusiastic in a manner which led to having an exclamation point—a minimum of one—on almost every page.

The story is part fairytale, part legend, and is told in a similar fashion as one might tell a Grimm; that is, with very little apparent emotional involvement from the authors. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was the work of blood, sweat, and tears for the Brothers Grimm to collect and record their tales, but there is very little emotional investment in those tales. When Granny gets eaten by the wolf? We shed no tears, mostly because that section of the story encompasses half a sentence. An idiom casually applied to writers is ‘no pain, no gain’. Or, in other words ‘no tears shed by the author, no tears shed by the reader’. Now, whether or not Joyce or Geringer became bleary-eyed in the penning of this volume, I can’t say. But it doesn’t appear likely.

We are hardly introduced to one character before that character is slung into an impossible turn of events which inevitably cause them to save the day…or die, actually. But whichever one occurs, there isn’t enough time to wrap our own hopes and fears around these characters and the things happening to them. In the climactic moment of the book, I found myself skimming the paragraphs—a downright reader’s sin. But I was not caught up in the story enough at that point, not ‘emotionally invested’, one could say, to really feel the tension.

It may be that I am too old for this story, and that is why I did not enjoy it, but even if that is the case, then it shows poorly on the tale’s behalf. I am the type of person who is quite content in perusing children’s picture books, or reading the laughter-inducing, clipped-vocabulary works of Mo Willem’s and his ilk. I take seriously to heart C. S. Lewis’s words that someday we will be old enough to love fairytales again. (I never stopped.) A children’s story can be (and should be) just as enjoyable to adults as to the intended audience. The best of them always are.

My best take on Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King is that it would be better suited to a picture book, where the depth of characters comes more from the illuminations of them, and the emotions of the story ride more often on the pictures than the words. William Joyce, after all, is a fabulous artist, with a whimsical flair. And both authors are well-known in the younger reader’s world of literature. As a matter of fact, I once picked up a children’s picture book which I found to be both whimsical and gorgeous, eye-candy, if you will. It was only as I was reading Nicholas St. North and studying some of the illustrations therein that I discovered the picture book held the historical background and foundation story for the novel—a legend about how the Man on the Moon came to be there.

All that being said, there was nothing inherently wrong with the story. But it is not one I recommend, and despite the fact that the story is left unfinished, I don’t plan on reading the further installments of this series. I will likely still see the DreamWorks take on the tale, and perhaps that will change my mind. Truly, I think this book could have been written better and given more life and invested with more love.