Thursday, November 6, 2014

Character Bios: The Sponsor & The Friend



Puck:


Puck Ebrin is a disgraced Air Jump sponsor from Lares whose team won the Crown the year the current Proctor of the UTC came to power. Puck's wife and child died of plague when the medicine that should have been available to them was stolen—a crime Puck was then accused of committing. When scandal connected this theft to Jumpers and cheating, he left the sport and renounced all ties to the winning team. Puck disappeared into obscurity, resurfacing only to sponsor the eleventh-hour team Nim joins.







Annwyl:

Annwyl Annod is a decorated Jumper and an avid follower of the sport in all its dirt and glory. She's a streetwise girl from Lares, a planet known more for its stunning vistas and classy vacation homes than its urban aptitude. Eager to share her knowledge of Air Jumping's best-kept secrets—including some things others might be keen to leave in the past—Annwyl takes the younger Nim under her wing, despite the fact that they're on opposing teams. Along the way, this shrewd Jumper teaches Nim a thing or two about 'the world' and 'home'.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Character Profile: Kio (and) "The Edsetera"

  (Kio and Nim)

I said I'd be posting some character bios this past week, posted Nim's and then forgot to ever officially write up ones for my other characters. So, here's a list of short bios for some of the major players. I might, over the course of the month, post some more.

(*note: UTC stands for Universal Treaty Confederation, which is what I'm currently calling the big government running most of these planets, but the name will probably change.)


(Kio's mask)

Kio:

Kio Mobrique is an Edseter from the Ripple, one of four terraformed planets in the same reach of space as the UTC but not part of the treaty. Kio was rescued at a young age from plague by a stranger's kindness and was later recruited by the governing powers of the Edsetera to find an Air Jumper who would speak on their behalf at the Victory ceremony of the Cup. With lungs badly damaged from his brush with death, Kio wears a respirator mask to help him breathe. Kio is the assistant to Puck Ebrin and becomes personal friends with Nim.



A Note on the Edsetera:

Generations ago, before the creation of the UTC, it was decided by certain scientists and governing powers that they would attempt to terraform seven worlds in their reach of space whose systems could hypothetically support life if some key elements were supplemented or changed. The result was four “successful” terraformed worlds: the Mirror, the Ripple, the Aper, and the Echo.

Soon after, transports were sent to these worlds with colonists whose job it would be to cultivate and inhabit these brand new earths. The colonists faced the hardships of pioneering their way in a brand new, harsh land, as well as disease and illness caused largely by the side affects of the terraform process. Over time however, those colonists who survived began to thrive in their new home—and to change.





They adapted. Like the people of Earth have adapted to thrive from deep in the desert to the tops of mountains, these people's very biology slowly realigned to enable them to survive: Their skin became thicker. They lost bone mass. Their eyes changed shape and color. Their skin turned gray. Their lungs were bigger. Their limbs longer. The colonists had children, and those children had grandchildren, and then great grandchildren.

No one really knew what to make of this people, this new breed of human that was developing. People ceased looking on the colonists as ordinary people like themselves. They were 'aliens', as mysterious and dangerous a race as any unknown out in the wide, wild universe. Soon they came to be called the Etcetera. The other. The rest. The added 'something similar' that was not quite the same.

Because of this, the Edseter worlds were not adopted into the UTC when it was created, and this left them open to attack from pirating spacecraft. They were the very outcasts of society. Only one world, the Aper, has succeeded in joining the UTC and at great cost to the little planet, which is still considered somehow less than its sister planets, inhabiting a sort of No Man's Land between the Edseter worlds and the rest of the UTC.

In the time leading up to Air Jump, the Edseter have been contriving ways to receive the recognition and protection of the UTC and their attention now falls the the Air Jump races and the Crown as a means of letting their story be told.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What is 'Air Jumping'? & Character Profile: Nim


Nim Sequanna is the main character (MC in novel lingo) of my NaNo, Air Jumper. Nim is tall and slim. Her hair is a dark brown, about to the length of her shoulders, with red hues in the highlights. Pale skin. Bright eyes that are green in color.

Nim loves Air Jumping almost more than anything else. To her it is life and breath. It gives her a special connection to her mother—a Jumper who died in a racing accident when Nim was small. Her love for the sport is so great that she is willing to abandon her family to pursue the fame and glory that a championship can bring her—something she believes her mother was wrong for refraining.

Her father Jurard and younger brother Arcus live with her on the rainy UTC planet Charybdis. Her father is primarily against Nim's fascination and aptitude with the sport that stole away his wife, even though Hester Sequanna was the one to instill that love in both of her children. Arcus is his sister's number one fan and constantly works with her to convince their father that she knows what she's doing—whether or not that's actually true.

Despite education and a zeal for knowledge, Nim quickly figures out just how naive she is before she even makes it offworld. By the time she realizes she's not ready for the challenges ahead of her, it's too late to go back.




What is 'Air Jumping'?

Avoiding the details of all the different obstacles, rules, course sets, team types, politics, etc. that I've been feverishly figuring out, here's the basic info on this sci-fi sport:

At its very base form, Air Jumping is parkour. It is a sport, or a discipline, primarily engaging the upper body of its participants, relying on arm strength and agility in jumping and leaping.



The idea of each course is to simulate different obstacles that the participants must out-maneuver in order to reach their goal. These obstacles might be stationary or mobile, creating impressive challenges each Jumper overcomes. A good Jumper is any individual with stamina, agility, strength, composure, and speed—and most commentators on the sport will agree that these traits should come in that order of importance. Any Jumper can be fast and able but wear out within a few obstacles, and a calm Jumper can lose sight of the bigger goal when time is of the essence. Every Jumper approaches the sport uniquely and studies have shown there are a variety of pros and cons to each technique.

Air Jumping was developed slowly over the years from its original urban art form until it reached its current height in popularity. From the street level 'free jumping', to the streamlined racing recognized by modern spectators, Air Jumping is a sport which branches through dozens of planets and multiple systems.

NaNoWriMo 2014~ the Week Before


 (Why is it I do my most blogging when my writing energies are most spent on something else?)

Quick reminder of what NaNoWriMo is:
NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. It's a (now worldwide) challenge to write one 50k word novel, beginning to end, in 30 days. In other words: one month of pure. blind. panic.

As weird and shocking and hard as that all might sound, the oddest part might be that this is my sixth year participating...and I won the challenge the last five times. In fact, I decided it wasn't challenging enough and last year pushed my wordcount goal to 70k—I finished with a couple thousand to spare.

This year I'd considered pushing my wordcount goal to an outrageous 100k (3,334 per day), but I'm going to settle for the 50 and just do my best—when writing roughly 2k daily—to make every word count so that when midnight comes on November 30th I've got something I'm really proud of. Well, that's the idea at least. ;)

The main reason that I've opted for fewer words again is because I'm writing in a genre I've never worked in before: Science Fiction. I've done a couple short stories that were sci-fi, but didn't really need to do a lot of worldbuilding or technical work for them, so I'm very new to the genre. Besides, novels are a whole other beast than friendly little shorts. I don't read a lot of sci-fi either, so I don't even know much about the typical formats and styles.

My main challenge is worldbuilding because in this story, instead of having a country or two for my characters to toddle about in, I have a confederation of over sixty planets. Now, I'm not going to develop all of these planets of course, but I'll need a good dozen of them to grow into characters of their own if this story is going to work.



And that brings me to the novel itself: I'm calling it Air Jumper. (*audience oohs and aahs appreciatively*)

Air Jumper is the story of Nim Sequanna, a young Jumper who puts everything her family owns on the line to compete in the sport she loves—the only way to return home now is to win it all. Hurled into a world of cheating athletes and dirty politicians, Nim befriends a mutant outcast looking to save his people and a disgraced businessman searching for redemption as they race against saboteurs and killers to claim the crown.

So that's the plan for this November. Over the next couple days, I'm going to try posting some character bios and such as I prepare for a race of my own. See you at the finish line!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Well, this is awkward...


 I cannot believe I've not posted anything on my blog since July! Wow. Sorry about that.

Honestly, I've not had much to post about. I love writing a blog--and sincerely need to make a better habit of it!--but I always feel the need to make big complicated posts...

That being said, here's what I think I'm going to do:

1. Not make my posts so long. I might post writing prompts or simple "notes to self" that could prove helpful, and not worry about making it look like an essay. ;) My blog entries might consist of a picture and two sentences. Or they might turn into rants, you never know.

2. Once again, NaNoWriMo is on it's way. I'll do my best to be posting throughout November. Clips from my NaNo, my random outbursts while writing, some character profiles, worldbuilding misc--that sort of thing. That should get my post number up for a short period anyway.

So, here's to paying a good deal more attention to this sad little journal I've done such a poor job keeping of late. ;)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review~ The Luck Uglies


Title: The Luck Uglies
Author: Paul Durham
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Rating: 6

Rye O'Chanter has nothing to fear from the Bog Noblins. There haven't been any sightings since they were chased off by a group whose name is barely even whispered in the most secret corners of the village Drowning: the Luck Uglies. But when a Bog Noblin stumbles into the village and even Rye's own mother seems to be keeping secrets, it's up to Rye and her friends to discover the truth about these forsaken outlaws and whether or not they might come back to save the day once again.

The Luck Uglies felt wonderfully familiar. It reminds me distinctly of something else that I've read and loved. (The fact that I can't recall what this is irritates me to no end.) But I can say that Durham's novel deserves its rightful place on any happy adventurer's bookshelf. Equal parts The Deep Freeze of Bartholomew Tullock, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and The Secret of Castle Cant, this book charmed and held me to the very last page. And I read said-page at an unnatural hour in the morning which is a recommendation all on its own.

Initially, I picked this little gem up for the cover art—which is splendid—and when I saw who had reviewed it on the back, I knew this story had the potential to become a favorite. Stefan Bachmann (author of The Peculiar), Jonathan Auxier (author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes), Christopher Healy (author of The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom) and Melissa Burt (author of Storybound, which isn't exactly a favorite of mine, but a very good concept), were all names I recognize and most of which I love.

Maybe I was just in a really good mood when I read this book. Maybe the reading of The Luck Uglies put me in a really good mood. Either way, I'm looking forward to more from Paul Durham and quite satisfyingly recommend this magical novel.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Screen Saver Thoughts

Screen saver thoughts. I've mentioned these before, and I thought I'd explain a bit.

Inspiration comes in many forms to different people... 
C. S. Lewis saw images and scenes in his mind and built his stories around them:


Steven Moffat takes every day things and asks how you can make people scared to death of them:

 And some people have dreams that they turn into stories.

I get inspiration in most of the usual ways, but there is one that is unique, and sometimes a tad annoying.

We all have those times, every once in a while, where our brain just sort of shuts down. Our thoughts melt away, we may stare aimlessly into space, and we basically think of nothing whatsoever for a few seconds.

On these mindless occasions, my brain has what I call a screen-saver mode, like that of a computer. I won't be particularly thinking about anything, but an individual thought surfaces and rolls around, repeating itself. Often, this is every bit as silly and weird and pointless as it sounds. But sometimes, just sometimes...there's something there.

Have you ever tried to consciously clear your mind of all thought? It's easier said than done. Our minds don't much appreciate being idle. If you try this, you'll realize that as you are specifically trying very hard not to think about anything, you start thinking about some incredibly random things.

 


The best example I can give is from my story Fall of the Crowned Ones, which I wrote a post about some time ago. I mentioned then that it was inspired by a Screen Saver Thought. The thought that surfaced then was the opening line: I'll be dead in thirty minutes. Bizarre and a bit morbid when it just pops into your brain, but I'm a writer, so I wasn't worried. My response: “Really?! That's fantastic!” I knew I had a story right at that moment.

This isn't the first time a Screen Saver Thought has helped a story, but it is the first time that it has inspired a whole new one all on its own. In the past, when these abrupt and random wonderings started showing up, I did my best to ignore them, and I regret that I neglected to write them down until after I realized how useful they could be.

Where do these thoughts come from? (I'm sure a psychiatrist would have a field day explaining that one for you.) 



Here's what I think: Our minds are constantly soaking up data and filing this data away somewhere for future reference. We may hear someone say a phrase and then forget about that phrase for years until something brings it up again. It's the same thing with what we read in stories. I'm fairly certain that this is where these little bits of inspiration come from, at least in part. Frankly, I'm just glad I have them.

"our imagination is what keeps us alive"

What inspires you?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book Review~The Shadow Collector's Apprentice



Title: The Shadow Collector's Apprentice
Author: Amy Gordon
Genre: Children's Historical/Mystery
Rating: 4

Cully Pennyacre just wants his dad to come home. But as his aunts try to keep their apple farm afloat without Jack, Cully finds himself in want of a summer job. His search leads him to Batty's Attic, run by 'Batty'—a collector of antiques, curiosities, and...shadows? Cully is unnerved by Batty's strange hobby and the even stranger effect it has on those whose shadows have been “collected”. As he tries to keep a nosy realtor from seizing his home and figure out what to do about Batty's granddaughter Isabel, Cully realizes that something sinister is going on behind the scenes of his town—something that could steal away everything he loves most.

The Shadow Collector's Apprentice is a fun read. It has warmth and heart and a cast of oddball characters that make the small town of Medley come alive. It's a very 'light' book, the type avid readers might comfortably swallow in one sitting and I really enjoyed it.

The fact that the story is taking place in the background of the Cold War provides a springboard for later developments in the plot and gives the story an interesting flavor, although not much about the period or events is actually discussed.

That being said, certain portions were a bit off-kilter and the ending was a little too perfect. Don't get me wrong, because I love a happy ending, but I love a Courageous happy as opposed to a Facing the Giants happy. (i.e. The conflict is resolved, the story is wrapped up neatly. Not “Oh look, everything that was terrible is now absolutely perfect”.) There's nothing wrong with ending a story this way—we readers like having things all settled—but it almost causes us to stop caring about the characters because we can see that everything will be fine for them from now on. We're not still interested in them after we've closed the book.

The ending has a slight twist, a foreseeable one for me, but it was nice just the same. Cully, Isabel, and the three aunts are fascinating characters with their own quirks. Gordon, who's been critically acclaimed for her other books, including Twenty Gold Falcons, has a sweet and sincere style of writing; and she knows that characters are much more interesting when they're not all cut and dried, black and white. Gordon also has a nice feel for the roundness of a story—not just tying up loose ends, but starting with a small picture or question and ending with a renewed version of that picture and an answer to the question.

All in all, I like The Shadow Collector's Apprentice and recommend it for a good read on a lazy summer evening.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review~The Shadow Throne

Spoiler Warning: This review may contain spoilers. If you're the sort who actively avoids them (good for you!), you should go read the first two books in this trilogy instead of this review. ;)




Title: The Shadow Throne
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Genre: Medieval Fantasy
Rating: 5

War has come to Carthya, the peaceful kingdom where young King Jaron is still learning how to rule. Surrounded by enemies advancing on all sides, Carthya is in need of saving now more than ever before. To stave off the invasion, Jaron sends some of his closest friends across enemy lines to find help and calls his countrymen to arms. He's just managed to establish himself as king in the hearts of his people, but nothing in all his adventures can prepare him for the sacrifices he must make to save his kingdom—or the losses he will suffer in the fight. In the end, who will sit on the throne of Carthya?

My sister likes to claim that I “hate sequels”. That's not true. What is true, however, is that many sequels simply fail to compare with their predecessor and end up being a disappointment to the reader. Some stories which cover more than one book begin incredibly well but slowly wane into mediocrity by the end, leaving the reader deeply dissatisfied.

I'm happy to say that Jennifer A. Nielsen does not disappoint. With The False Prince, Nielsen built up some incredible momentum and it doesn't slack off. Was The Shadow Throne as good as The False Prince? I'm not certain. There's always a wonderful freshness in the first of a trilogy that can simply not be found in the last story, sure. There are things you can do, surprises you can bring, in a first novel that won't work a second time around. All three of these novels are filled with plot twists, but after the first book, you're expecting them. Does that make them any less good? I don't think so. Even when a turn is expected, the form it takes can still blow you away.

Before I rave happily, there are a few cons to this, the final installment in the Ascendance Trilogy: I mentioned in my review of The Runaway King that there is a vaguely defined religion in the story world involving saints and demons. It is set out in more detail in The Shadow Throne that 'good' people are rewarded in the afterlife, accepted by the saints and joining them while the 'bad' people will join the trickster devils in the pit. Considering that Jaron frequently asks pardons, favors, and please-look-the-other-ways from the trickster devils, and that multiple other characters stride a thin line between 'good' and 'bad', this poses the question of who 'deserves' what. An interesting take in the first book, the unsubstantial religion of Jaron's world proved shallow in the third—when it was most needed and emphasized—and left something missing. I can't say I expected more, but when this shapes a major turning point in the story, it does leave something to be desired.

My only other complaint is with the title itself. While the implications are all there, nothing is ever writ in stone on the reasoning behind the title specifically. And that's a shame because I can see where the the idea was coming from and wish Nielsen had pursued it a bit more closely.

When all is said and done, I loved these books and when I got to the end of The Shadow Throne, I sat back with a sigh of contentment—made even nicer by the fact that the last book I read had left me discontented. Nielsen's sharp wit delivers through the viewpoint of her protagonist, and in the midst of the battles and plots, there is a warmth of adventure and friendship bringing it all to life.

These books will find a place in my own library someday in the not-too-distant future (somewhere between Funke's Inkheart and George's Dragon Slippers, perhaps). It's my pleasure to heartily recommend The Ascendance Trilogy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Movie: The Desolation of Smaug



Well, I finally watched Desolation of Smaug, the second in the three-part movie version of Tolkien's, The Hobbit.

Let me begin by saying I love The Hobbit, it's one of my favorite books of all time—not surprisingly, and for very good reason—and I'm beyond happy that Peter Jackson has followed up his success in The Lord of the Rings to give this tale a place in the cinematic world. I'm grateful to him. There's a part of me that says he can do no wrong, but that's not true. And, to be honest, Desolation of Smaug shows this very fact.

The movie was good. It was enjoyable. There were parts which had me on the edge of my seat, parts that had me ooh-ing and aah-ing, parts that grabbed my heart and refused to let go. But on the whole, it was a good movie. Not a great one. It was...okay.

I know what people are thinking: Here comes another rant about Tauriel. Actually, I have no issue with this character's involvement. After all, what female characters are in the original story? We needed one somewhere, and can you imagine the outrage if you made one of the dwarves a girl??? (That's a joke, as I really can't see them doing that.) Legolas was, yes, a stretch—and the fact that Orlando Bloom is so much older now didn't help matters. Also, his eyes...what was with his freaky eyes???

Smaug did not disappoint. An excellent dragon, beautifully crafted by the wizards of the digital world. (And Cumberbatch's voice made the character.)

Character building in this part of the story was also well done. Especially with the dwarves and most notably Thorin, Fili and Kili. (But of course, we all know the reason for that, right?) Even in reading the book, you get lost among the dwarvish company, trying to remember who is who. The same can be said for the movies, but in the second installment, you can really see some of the dwarves stepping out of the background and becoming characters all of their own.


As in the first film, we get to see some of Thorin's—arguably the hero of the whole story—flaws as a character. His greed, true to his ancestors, is his downfall and he also has a habit of looking down on others, but once they've proven themselves, he honors them. I've always loved Thorin, and the film version of him is no exception.

The downsides: The Hobbit, remember, is a children's story and, one would think, should be treated with a more light-hearted attitude than the Trilogy. Instead, Jackson seems to be trying to duplicate the original Trilogy by making The Hobbit as “epic” as he possibly can. But it doesn't need to be “epic”. The Hobbit is the simple, sweet story of Middle-Earth. It's the Adventure. It is the story of the Hobbit himself, of a quiet person who is thrown into a quest to slay a dragon and win some gold. And even though all this with the Necromancer was going on at the same time, it's not actually part of the story, and adding it to the movie does make the story darker.

Oh, and I would have appreciated more of Beorn. The movie makes him out to be much more threatening and unpredictable as I ever remember in the book.

As for my favorite part of the movie? Bard. Hands down, it was Bard. 


(Even though he resembles Will Turner just a tad too much for my tastes...) 

(See what I mean?)

I love Bard—again, I always have. I wanted the book to show more of him, and I'm especially glad that the movie does.

(Also, the scene where Bilbo climbs above the canopy of Mirkwood is beautiful. Perfect.)


Avoiding spoilers, that's all I can say. It was a good movie, but not a fantastic one, and certainly not the best rendition of the book. (While I'm not as much a purist as some, I am of the opinion that if you're making a book into a movie you should...you know, make the movie as much like the book as possible.) I think “PJ” has become very fond of his own version of Middle-Earth, and a better foundation in Tolkien's original work would suit us all a lot better.

I am still grateful for everything Jackson has done for the Tolkien following and I am looking forward to the last installment of The Hobbit films. And yes, I plan on owning them all someday.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Write About Writing?

Why write about writing?

It's not that I'm saying “Look here, I've got this down. I know the answer.” Instead, it's because I'm trying to figure something out. Trying to piece together a puzzle.

If I do a post on villains, it's because I'm struggling with one of my own. If I start ranting about any subject at any point in time, it's because I'm either excited or troubled over it.

So I start writing about how I go about writing. Sounds pretty funny, but it helps. It's talking myself through a problem, or channeling my enthusiasm into actually getting something done.

I'm sure I'm not the only writer who paces about, whispering things like “So then they  have to get away...do they jump off the cliff...how would they survive jumping off a cliff? Maybe there's a marshmallow bog at the bottom! No, that's all sorts of ridiculous...and it doesn't tie in with anything else...” and on and on. That's how I solve the puzzle.

On more than one occasion I'll be sharing a problem with a friend and discover the answer before I can get around to asking them for help. I'll interrupt myself, backtrack, and then beam hugely at them while they try to comprehend what's so grand about the nonsense I've just uttered.

So why post these writings about writing?

That's a bit different. It's because I want to share the answer.

A lot of my solutions aren't helpful for everyone, but they help me, so they might help someone else. And if that someone else happens to stumble upon my little blog and get a dose of inspiration...well, I couldn't be happier.

And if someone points to what I've said and says 'Um, that's all sorts of ridiculous', I'm not bothered. I love to discuss it with them because, probably, it is all sorts of ridiculous and sometimes the solution isn't as grand as I thought it to be—in which case, I'll want to change it and make it better. I'd rather listen to someone else ramble about their writing than myself any day of the week.

I think a lot of people believe blogging to be a one-way conversation and that's just not how I roll.

So if you're ever wandering around this little blog and spy some ridiculousness happening, you're always welcome to point it out because I want to hear your opinion.

That's why I blog.

That's why I write about writing.