Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer is almost over

Fun read!
Ok, not the season, but the break from school is. Especially for me. It’s been nice, since this is the first break of more than a week I have had from school since I started my Master’s program. The downside is, because of the break, my school has not reported to Sallie Mae that I am enrolled in the next term, so they are already harassing me about making student loan payments. Uh, no? Blood from a turnip and all that.

Anyways, I start back up a week from Monday, with my final History class (Renaissance and Reformation). Also, if my transfer credits come through from my single semester at Capella, this will actually be my last full class. After that it’s the comprehensive exam and that’s (hopefully) it!

I’ve also looked into what I’m doing after that. One of the local college campuses has a WI Teacher Certification program that is only 18 months long. I’ve started the paperwork for that, just in case that’s the direction I decide to go. Part of that process will probably be to see if I can shadow a local History teacher or two, just to get an idea of whether being a high school teacher is a good fit. I’ll try to do that a few days this coming fall.

My next read.
The biggest plus to this summer has been that I have gotten to read a lot more. After a few false starts with books that didn’t “grab” me, I managed to finish a few paperbacks in the last couple of months (that’s pretty good for my pace). Just yesterday I finished Another Fine Myth by Robert Aspirin. I had picked up the entire series for a pittance a while back, and decided I could go for some lite-hearted fantasy. It delivered in spades. Very fun and quick. Today I started Redliners by David Drake, which has been languishing on my Kindle for several months.

I’ve also determined that I am going to start taking in more historical non-fiction in my leisure reading time. Going to compile a list of “essential” works that I need to read, and just start digging in. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears. I’m mostly focusing on ancient cultures. But I would like to read more about American history as well. For now I will probably start with A History of the Vikings, by T.D. Kendrick. Mainly because I already own a copy. It was a good source for my research on the Varangian Guard.

On the writing front, a bit of movement here and there. I have a sci-fi story I’m shopping around. I have the Gorus story about ¾ done. And I was picking at the orc mercenary book yesterday. I figure I’ll be ready to be a “professional” writer in about 10 years or so.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Conditioned

I think I’m too conditioned to be Eurocentric in my reading tastes. I’m reading the first Horseclans book, and while I am enjoying it, I have to admit that the Hispanic vernacular, names, titles, and everything kind of throws me off a bit. It almost feels like Adams took a basic Medieval European-style world, and threw a 19th century Mexico skin over it. All of the names and titles bring images of Zorro into my head. It’s taking some getting used too.

In the meantime, I picked up a recently acquired copy of Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria the other day, and casually started reading it. Before I knew it, I was hooked into it, and it has become my primary reading now. I had never read any Thongor before, but in my quest to get at least a little experience with all of the “Clonans” of the 60’s and 70’s, I decided I need to give it a go. Pretty cool so far. Lin Carter wasn’t an extraordinary writer, nor was he all that original, but he did weave a fun yarn.

On a side note, I have the edition pictured above. Obviously the cover artist was working from a basic description, because the “flying boat” in the scene depicted isn’t supposed to look anything like a spacecraft, the way that one does. I saw it more like the flying ships in the Barsoom novels. Basically, a flying boat, but with a sail.

Anyways, with the long weekend (I took Monday off too), I hope to have some reading time. Maybe even some writing time, though I’m not holding my breath.

Speaking of writing, struggle as I might, I don’t think I am going to be able to get that Gorus story up to 17k+ like I’d hoped. The story is just too simple, and would require way more fluff than I’m comfortable with at this point. The downside is that, as it stands now, it will probably still be about 12-13k once completed. That’s too short for a novella, but too long for most short story markets. So, the plan is back to finishing this one, and then write another story of similar length, with a bridge story in between, thus creating a (short) novel-length narrative.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Not my world…

…I just write in it.

An idea occurred to me this morning. Would I want to live in the worlds that I write about? Let me explain.

We all know that Facebook (and other social media) have become hotbeds of socio-political discourse, debate, and downright argument. Generally, I try to avoid those subjects, as I have a wide variety of friends, from all over the spectrum, and I don’t generally like to antagonize them (except at the gaming table, but that’s a whole different issue). That being said, occasionally there comes a subject that I feel strongly enough about that I want to say something. Most recently, it is this whole “open carry” issue.

Without going into detail about my views on the 2nd Amendment in general, I can honestly say that this idea of openly carrying assault rifles and shotguns in public frightens me. It feels like a social step backwards. We’re not living in the Old West. We’re not just a bunch of fledgling colonies trying to shrug off the yoke of an oppressive regime (though I often hear arguments to the contrary). This is the 21st century. I don’t feel we need these guns in the hands of just anyone, and brazenly in the open.

But, some of the worlds I read in and write in contradict this. My favorite fictions are bloody, violent, and rife with guns and swords dealing wanton death and mayhem. I enjoy the stories and the settings in a vicarious way. But would I want to actually live there? Hell no! While I consider myself a somewhat courageous person, who would fight to defend those who are important to me, I don’t think I could stand living in the state of mind required to constantly be vigilant against that kind of threat.

I like to imagine that, if my family were killed by the mafia, I would take up arms and wage a guerrilla war against them. Or that, if my kingdom were beset by a horde of orcs, directed by an ancient and evil sorcerer, I would draw steel and stand against the tide. But, in truth, I am very happy that I don’t live in a world where either is probable (or even possible, in the case of the latter). Dying for a noble cause is still dying. And I’d rather live, thankyouverymuch.

The bottom line, for me, is that there is a line between fantasy and reality that is being crossed. Rather than prepare for an imagined world of “What if..?” I’d rather try to solve the problems that plague the real world. I’ll leave the dystopian fantasy to movies and novels.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Updates and Whatnots

I finished The Silver Crown the other day. What a fun book! Really captured the setting well, without a lot of pretension and verbosity. If’n ya know what I mean. I started reading another Werewolf book I have, When Will You Rage?. It’s an anthology of short stories, so I thought it would be cool to just digest the World of Darkness in smaller pieces. However, this morning I changed my mind and perused my bookshelf for something new and different.

What I settled on was The Coming of the Horseclans by Robert Adams. It’s the first book in the Horseclans series, and I’ve heard good things about it. Good, old-fashioned post-apocalyptic swords (& sorcery?) adventure. Sounds perfect! But, with my track record of starting and not finishing novels, we’ll see how it goes.

Been wanting to work on a couple of writing projects this summer, but things have been chaotic in my head, and I can’t seem to focus on anything for very long. So, instead I have been working on smaller projects, like RPG material, and some ideas for short stories. I’m pretty sure that’s where my niche is always going to be. The longer forms of literature just intimidate me to the point of creative paralysis.

Also had a bit of wake-up call yesterday. Got an email from Sallie Mae about my student loans. Basically it was an update on my loan balance and my projected payments. Yeah. I’m definitely going to be looking for higher paying jobs. In fact, after some financial upheavals this week, I already have. Which conflicts me. I like where I work, and who I work for, if not what I do. But, it simply isn’t enough to support my family these days. Submitted a couple of applications yesterday, and am looking at what I will need to do to get into the education field.

I know a lot of people say education is not a good field to be in if you are looking at making a decent wage. However, the people who say that obviously have very different standards than I do. Right now, we do ok. And the average starting salary for most teachers in this areas is already about 25% more than what I make. So, it’s all relative. My only real concern is whether I have the temperament to be a teacher. Or if I have the confidence to stand in front of a group of students every day and try to sound like I know what I am talking about. I’m looking into ways to test that before taking the plunge into certification.

In other news, finally got to have a date night with the wife last weekend. We had a nice dinner out, and then saw X-Men: Days of Future Past. Honestly, I think it’s the best X-Movie to date. I mean, I’ve liked them all to greater or lesser extent. But this one really pulled a lot of things together, into a very cool story. Was it predictable? Of course. Were there plot holes? I dunno. I seem to never be able to spot those on first viewings, so I don’t care. But, like a good comic book movie, it was made for the fans, not the critics. And in that, I think it did pretty well. And Hugh Jackman should just change his name to Huge Jacked-man. Cuz, holy crap!

Oh, and if you haven’t seen it, but plan to, make sure to stay for the after-credits scene. If you are a fan of the X-Men comics, you will geek out. If you aren’t up to speed on X-Lore, you will most likely be at least intrigued.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I am a terrible writer

I don’t think I’m a terrible writer from the technical and craft standpoint. I think I’m pretty good at creating believable and relatable characters, developing characterization for them, describing scenes, writing good action sequences, and I’m even getting a decent grip on dialogue.

I know the basics of story structure, plot elements, plot devices, points of view, and I’m even starting to get the hang of developing the story from an outline, rather than by the seat of my pants.

No, where I fail is in the delivery. I have absolutely zero discipline when it comes to just putting my ass in the chair, my fingers on the keyboard, and my focus on the current project. I am easily distracted by all manner of things outside of writing (resistance). Occasionally I can muscle through all of that and grind out a good word count. An on rarer occasions, I can even do so until I can type the proverbial “The End” (how many people actually write those words when they finish?).

Then there is the fact that I am easily distracted by new ideas. If the book I am reading isn’t in the same genre as my current writing project, there is a real danger of my attention wandering off, leaving the WIP unfinished. Same goes for movies I see, games I play, etc. Just yesterday, Xbox Gold offered Super Street Fighter IV for free download. And after I got it loaded up, I found myself drawn back to the late 90’s when I was practically obsessed with fighting games.

Related to that is my (unhealthy?) obsession with tabletop roleplaying games. Just last week I got a couple of issues of an indie RPG Zine, and I suddenly became overwhelmed with the idea of doing one of my own.

My one saving grace is deadlines. When I have had a deadline that is carved in stone (more or less), I’m able to produce. Two of my stories were for anthologies that had a fairly set deadline. And even though both fell through, I was able to get my word-count perfect within the allotted time. The same goes for school work. Even though I almost always procrastinate, I have always managed to get a decent effort in by the due date, and most often sooner.

Unfortunately, setting deadlines for myself never works. In can tell myself over and over “I have to have this story done by this date.” But, the fact of the matter is, if there’s not someone outside asking for it, or even just expecting it, it’s too easy for me to blow off that artificial deadline.

I think I need to go back and re-read The War of Art. And this time really listen to the words, and take them to heart. Because, at this rate, I’m never going to be anything more than a scatter-brained dreamer with a bunch of short stories to my name.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Time to Rage!

So, last night I finally finished Bloodstone, by Karl Edward Wagner. Once I got past the extensive info-dumps it’s a pretty rollicking good tale. I would label it 60% horror, 40% heroic fantasy. Kane is a right bastard, but, unlike some such characters, it’s justified in his case, based on who and what he is. All in all, a good book, and I’m glad to have finally read it.

Which brings me to what I am reading next. The other day I found myself hanging out in the library with the two younger kids while the wife took care of some work-related stuff (the library has a branch in the strip mall where her salon is). So, while Connor occupied himself in the kid’s section, and Sydney sat in a chair and started reading The Hunger Games, I wandered about, eyeballing all kinds of stuff.

While in the sci fi/fantasy section, my eye spied a Dragonlance novel that I wasn’t sure if I had read. For those who don’t know, Dragonlance is one of the various gaming worlds that the D&D game has been set in. It kind of put the whole sub-genre of “gaming fiction” on the map with Dragonlance Chronicles back in the early 80’s. I have read that trilogy four times. This book was set during that trilogy, and covers a short period that was glassed over originally. I didn’t check it out, because it sounded familiar, and I wasn’t sure if I had read it. Turns out, I’m pretty sure I have.

But that got me to thinking about gaming fiction, and I suddenly had a hankering to read some. I hit up the used book store yesterday, and while I saw a lot there, nothing grabbed me (that I hadn’t already read), so when I got home I looked through what I have on my shelf. A few D&D-related titles, but not much anymore. However, I did see that I had recently bought a copy of a short novel based on the Rage Collectible Card Game, which is in turn based on Werewolf: The Apocalypse, my favorite of the World of Darkness family of RPGs from White Wolf.

I started reading The Silver Crown today, and I am immediately being drawn back into that whole world. Familiar terms like cairn, moot, and fetish, when taken in context, bring about some good memories. Names like Get of Fenris and Silver Fangs do as well. And like I said, it’s a pretty short novel (249 pages), so I hope it rushes by.

Of course, this has my brain thinking about gaming in the WoD, as well as writing some modern gothic horror of my own…

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Who is Gorus?

An unfinished Conan skectch by
the late John Buscema.  Very much
how I imagine Gorus looking.
So, with progress being steadily made on the Gorus story/novella, I thought I might start generating some buzz, just in case it gets accepted (since, even if it doesn’t I will shop it around to other publishers, or possibly self-publish it). To that end, let me share some history of the character himself. Hopefully without any spoilers.

The germ of the idea for Gorus came from my desire to have my own ‘Conan.’ I wanted a character who fit the physical mold of a hulking warrior with steely thews, pantherish grace, and primal ferocity. The thing was, I didn’t want to be too cliché about it, and make him just another barbarian descending on an unsuspecting civilization. Thanks to the ‘Clonans’ of the 70’s (Kyrik, Thongor, etc.), we have enough of those.

Thus, Gorus is city-bred and civilized. But in order to justify his physical prowess, which, much like his predecessors, towers him above the norm, I had to come up with some logical reason for him to be so. Without giving away too much, I can say that his ancestry isn’t entirely human. In fact, it’s not even entirely of the material plane.

The interesting thing is, once I had that decided, it opened up doors to many different plot points, and supporting characters. It also gave the story possibilities some fresh takes. Even though he could easily fit into one of Conan’s ‘fortune-seeker’ adventures, he can also fit into some truly supernatural adventures where the lines between good and evil, from his perspective, are blurred.

Physically he is inspired by Conan, but also with some elements of Elric. Basically, imagine if Elric had Conan’s build. Gorus is often referred to as Gorus the Gray, because his skin is a pale gray in color, and his hair is a dull white. He is usually mistaken for an albino, and most people who see him, though a bit taken aback at first, just assume that’s what he is and move on. But, his eyes are a brilliant turquoise, rather than an albino’s pink or pale blue.

At the beginning of the story Gorus is unaware of his heritage, and does not fully understand why he looks different, or why he has physical traits that are not normal. However, he has grown to embrace them, and knows how to use them to his advantage. The net result of all of this is that I have what I think is a pretty unique character, but also one that fits the mold of my favorite fantasy heroes.