Dec 10, 2013

A Fanfic Celebration

It's been a whole month since I posted - and one of the busiest I've ever seen.

You probably remember that I launched my first attempt at NaNo, with not 50, not 30, but 20,000 words as my goal - and just baaaarely squeezed in a win. Not that I stopped there, because the plot decided it wasn't finished with me and I bashed out another 4,414 words. Meaning I have to trim down the draft 4,414 words. I sent out the first draft of it to my readers yesterday evening and am refreshing my inbox obsessively. *cough*

This is a cover I made for my short story. I may or may not have been procrastinating when I made it.

It kind of counts as fanfiction because it's a retelling of Cinderella for this contest:
Yes, I probably have too much on my plate. Do I care? No.

December is going to be pretty busy too, because I have promised Certain People that the draft of my first novel will be to them by Christmas. So don't expect the posting rate to pick up again right away. I'll be guest posting in a couple places in the near future, though, so look out for that!

As a sort-of celebration of my sort-of return, I'm going to post my very first piece of fanfiction that I wrote for Stacia's contest over at her blog:

Yes, it involves Iri, who is very glad to be back and is already waiting to soak up the fangirls' accolades. It also involves Stacia's character Rykel, of whom I have been a fan for some time.

(That is Stacia's sketch of le Rykelface. Gah, I wish I could draw my characters like that.)

I had the time of my life writing it, nibbling peppermint chocolate in my bedroom floor and toasting my toes in front of a space heater. (To those of you who are inevitably wondering, this falls right after my prologue.)

Without further ado - Iri-Rykel fanfic!

            Iri’s fingernails whitened round the edges of a snow-white scale as his other hand pressed a rag to the rift in his dragon’s colorless hide. A phantom pain throbbed in his left forearm and Snow whimpered, hanging her great head down in a fervent desire to lick the wound. ‘No,’ Iri snapped, glaring up at her.
            She swung away, eyes screwed shut. ‘Iri, it hurts!’
            ‘Be still.’
            Something nagged him about his bad mood. Maybe it was because he wished he hadn’t used his magic up and could heal her instantly instead. Maybe because he’d assassinated a princess yesterday and left her body to rot in that abandoned temple. Or maybe he was just tired from the battle.
            Tiredness. That was it.
            Iri turned and felt the swift, immediate movement behind him as Snow pulled the wound out of sight to nurse it. Damon, a fair elf and one of the few other Carseldians in Klista’s service, bowed in deference to Iri’s new status as head of the Riders. A bit of the pleasant glow from his promotion reignited in his tired limbs. He straightened, stretching his cramped fingers. “What is it, Damon?”
            “There is a…stranger at the gates asking to see you. Seems to know you.”
            “I can’t take visitors now.” Iri let his head sag to the side in exasperation. “Besides, practically everyone knows me.”
            Damon’s eyebrows seemed to hunch forward in confusion. “He’s asking quite…forcefully. When the guards apprehended him, he threatened to…blast us. Or something of that nature.”
            “Magic?” Iri scowled, wrapping the bloody rag round his palm. “Is he a Rider?”
            “He – he – doesn’t look like any Rider I’ve ever seen.” Damon glanced down as if to check his information against something and found his empty hands to stare at. “He also mentioned” – his voice fell to a near-whisper – “a world called Earth.”
             Iri tucked his chilled fingers into his palms. Earth.
            He brushed past Damon and strode toward the gate.
            The Riders moving through the courtyard bowed to him, greeting him briefly in the Andunian language, but no one wanted to get in his way. Even the dragons coiled up stray wings and tails from his path.
            He realized at the gates that Damon still trailed him and waved the Rider off with a flick of his fingers. His sword hung on the rack in his rooms – he thought to have no need of it today – but his dagger still sat firm and cool in its sheath against his thigh. His finger arched over the top of the curved pommel, back and forth, as the guards parted at the door of a room adjoining the gates. Usually their captain shared this room with an absurdly small desk, but today an altogether bizarre young man lounged against the edge of said desk, tattoos cascading over his crossed forearms.
            When Iri entered, the stranger flicked a ragged edge of hair out of his eyes and levered to his feet. The guards’ spear shafts clacked together in front of his chest. The stranger lifted a pierced eyebrow. “Tell them to buzz off, would ya?”
            Iri shifted weight from his sore leg, enjoying his advantage a little bit longer and using the delay to study his visitor. The eyebrow wasn’t the only piercing – he had some kind of rings in his ears, though Iri had only ever seen women wear them there – and he wore a curious tunic with ragged tears at the shoulders where the arms should have been. Blocky markings crossed the front of it. Letters, but they spelled no words that he could make out. Ac, dc. Aack duc. Who put words on their clothing, anyway?
            Despite all his oddity, Iri’s first thought was that he knew him.
            His second thought was that he would like to see whether the muscled youth would put his solid-knuckled, calloused hands to good use. The weight of the rank pin at the breast of his uniform checked him. He had responsibility now; he couldn’t start fistfights for no reason. But still…
            Pay attention. Act like the leader you are. “Threats aren’t the best way to put them at ease.”
            The stranger shrugged. “They messed with my Indian.”
            “Your – what?” There went the poise. It reminded him too much of his father, anyway.
            “Oh, don’t tell me.” The young man raked scarred fingers through his mop of overhanging hair. “Dangit. You don’t have those here. Yeah, I know – some of the kids at Poly read fantasy novels. Pretty freaky stuff if you ask me. But I had to get here somehow. Not my fault if you’ve never seen a motorbike before.”
            Iri frowned, curling his first finger round the dagger pommel. Familiar or not, what Iri knew of Earth and the people there gave him more than enough reason to be wary. “Who are you?”
            “Jack Rykel. You can call me Rykel. Now can you tell ‘em to buzz off?”
            Iri hesitated only for a moment. Strangeness aside, this Rykel seemed well-connected to Earth, and ill treatment of a representative could lead nowhere but trouble.
            Besides, he seemed already far too comfortable in a world different from his own, and Iri wanted to see what he thought of dragons.
            “Stand down,” he ordered. The guards lowered their spears, their narrow eyes sharp with interest. Iri shot a smile at his visitor as he turned to the door. “Whatever magic you may have, you’re in the Riders’ headquarters now. Watch what you do.”
            “Dude, it’s not magic,” Rykel said to his back. Iri grinned and led the way out into the courtyard.
            The first dragon they met was relatively small – a blue belonging to an Elvarian desert-dweller named Nyvien – but she was impressive enough as she reared her angular head up out of the recessed pit lined with rushes for padding. The courtyard bustled with dragons and their Riders – larger fighting beasts resting from the takeover three days ago, small couriers coming and going, the two or three broody females rustling their wings protectively over their eggs as others passed.
            Iri glanced back at the stranger sauntering behind him – sauntering truly was the best word – to gauge his reaction. Rykel’s mouth had narrowed to a pucker which presently let out a low whistle. His eyes followed the path of a green courier as she circled the courtyard and dived out of sight behind the walls of the compound. “Don’t have those where I come from.”
            Snow raised her head guiltily when Iri stepped to the top of the recessed pit where she sprawled, her impressive, serpentine bulk set off by the dark rushes patterning the light stone beneath. He jumped to the bottom, turned back to face Rykel, and leaned against her side. She curved slightly to accommodate him, her tail flicking between him and the newcomer, a motion that said mine, mine. Rykel stood at the top of the steps, hands on hips, feet set wide.
            Rykel had the high ground, but Iri had a dragon.
            “So you haven’t told me what you’re doing here.” Iri crossed his arms, letting the weak sunlight glance on his gold armbands.
            Rykel shrugged again and settled into a comfortable crouch, digging a packet of something out of a pocket in his tattered pants. “Your author’s had my info on her laptop for ages.” He methodically placed a slender paper tube between his lips, lit the end of it with an odd blue device, dragged a breath on it, and said in a puff of acrid smoke, “I figured I’d come meet you.”
            “That can’t be the only reason.” Iri tapped his fingernails on the armbands; he knew it was a mannerism most people hated, but it helped him think.
            “No, you’re right.” Rykel rested one elbow on his knee and waved his hand, trailing a streamer of smoke across the watery blue sky. “So I thought I’d do a little snooping while I was here. I have no restraint. It’s a curse.”
            It wasn’t, Iri thought, watching the upward tilt of his square chin, a curse he was particularly eager to remedy.
            “Your author leaves stuff everywhere. Notes, plans, timelines.” He placed the cylinder in his mouth again. The end glowed with fragments of fire. “It wasn’t hard to figure out.”
            “You don’t want me to decide that you’re wasting my time.” Iri examined his fingernails, blue-crusted as they were with his dragon’s dried blood. “I have an evening scheduled with a courtier who’s a lot prettier than you.”
            “You really don’t listen well.” Rykel bounced once on his toes, his hair flopping up and down again. “Fine. In plain language, I’m trying to warn you.”
            “Warn me?”
            “Whatever you’re doing, believe me, you want to stop.” Rykel’s startlingly blue eyes narrowed for an instant, in something like concern. “I read ahead, man. It doesn’t end well.”
            “And why do you care?” Iri stifled a thought that was beginning to sound a lot like Why would anyone?
            “Because.” Rykel’s knuckles paled on the white cylinder. “You don’t.”
            Iri was suddenly, inexplicably angry. “It’s not as easy as you seem to think,” he snapped.
            “Changing? Oh, I know.” Rykel huffed a short breath and leaned forward so the white letters wrinkled across his chest. “Heck no, it’s not easy.” He rose in a smooth motion, shrugging the shoulders of his odd tunic straight again. “But –”
            “Go back to your own blasted story!” Iri shouted, blind with an anger that struck faster and hotter than lightning. Snow, reacting, rolled half to her feet and hissed a cloud of chill air, ruffling the edges of Rykel’s tattered sleeves.
            “Easy, snowflake, I’m not gonna hurt him,” Rykel said in an offended tone, backing a step. “Gosh, you people take things so seriously.
            “Take your warnings and your motor-bike and go back to Prolly –”
            Iri gritted his teeth. “Wherever you came from!”
            “Dude, I can take a hint.” Rykel raised both hands in surrender. “Don’t overreact, okay? Just – for what it’s worth.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “I’ll, uh, see myself out.”
            Iri watched him swagger away, winking at a female Rider who had no idea who he was. His eyes narrowed.
            ‘Iri?’ Snow’s wings spread over the floor, enclosing him in a blanket of warm, scaled leather. ‘Who was that?’
            Iri caressed his dagger hilt. ‘An enemy.’

So, what do you think? Does fanfic suit me? ;) Are you happy to see Iri back, or should I do a different character next time? Who should it be?

Nov 7, 2013

Not-So-Calm November Eve: Assassin Photoshoot and an Explanation

At 4:13 PM on the sixth of November, a teenage maniac dressed in a black turtleneck, black breeches, high black boots, black gloves, and a black beret, was seen in the back garden of the Lewis home. It alternately tramped through the weeds, carried around handfuls of broken glass and asparagus berries, and ripped morning glory tendrils off the barn walls. The siblings who sighted it did not seem concerned. Regardless, we will keep you updated on the doings of this strange creature. A lookalike was spotted wearing a white hoodie and striped sweatpants, but upon investigation it claimed to be a writer, and anyway it was eating chocolate and could not be bothered.

This stemmed from my absolute and total frustration with my writing, my graphic art, and my laundry. In a fury of jilted creativity, I yanked my pirate boots and leather gloves out of my closet, pulled a black turtleneck and breeches out of my dresser drawers, and donned a black beret from my mom's closet.

I had noticed several days ago that the back garden would make an absolutely idyllic photoshoot location, either for something wistful and nostalgic or for a desolate, dystopian-style set. Given my mood, dystopian it was.

And slightly evil. Yes, those are asparagus berries, and they are not as poisonous as they look, though "mild gastrointestinal distress" is a threatening sort of phrase.

This is the smile you hope to never see me use.

And the Head Tilt of Impending Doom. Similar to but not to be confused with the Nostril Flare of Total Rejection (kudos to anyone who gets that reference.)

Several of these shots couldn't decide whether they were artsy or just badly aimed, as I had no one behind the camera and a grocery bag encasing it to protect it from the rain that stopped three minutes after I got outside.

Suggested music for this image: 528491 from the Inception score.

 I like the hyper-focus on this one, almost like that moment of adrenaline-induced alertness just before someone jumps out at you. Namely me.

Obligatory shots of the props, just because they were turning out so nicely and because I was tired of seeing my over-dramatic face.

Ahh, you were expecting an explanation of some sort? Why, may I ask? Oh, right, the title. Well, anyway. This is my excuse for not posting for several weeks and not having the rest of the contest winners up by now.

This, my friends, is the entire second draft of Wings of Hope, the first book in the Wings Trilogy. This being the first time it has existed in its entirety in hard copy. I was giddy the entire day. I had rushed to finish it the night before, on the prompting of my mother who offered me a trip to St. Louis as incentive for finishing it on time. The very next day, we arrived at the print shop. And THIS came out of that printer.

272 pages. 142,000 words. My first novel. Ever.

Yes. I am far too excited and took far too many pictures. Sue me.

 Those of you on Facebook have likely already heard about this, but not in connection with my inactivity or my negligence in the short story postings. This is my reason. Well, that, and this little gem of annoyingness right here:

That's right - my first ever attempt at NaNoWriMo. But I couldn't just do NaNoWriMo, oh no. I had to bend the system. So that's me attempting to write 15,000 words instead of 50,000 words in a month. I only need 500 words a day. Ha ha, law-abiding NaNoers. (Never mind that I'm behind anyway. My plot was eating itself like a literary version of Ouroboros.) This is my attempt at a Five Glass Slippers story, a contest for retellings of the fairy tale Cinderella, which closes on December 31st. Yes, I know I'm insane. I had a dream with a concept I couldn't resist.

So. This is how this is going to work:
  1. I scream and everyone else fangirls and nothing gets done.
  2. I realize that nothing is getting done.
  3. I buckle down on NaNo, taking a break from the novel while my mom marks it up.
  4. During December, I edit both the novel and the short story, fixing any glaring errors and shining it up a little.
  5. I print out additional copies of Wings of Hope.
  6. Wings of Hope goes to the draft readers probably near Christmas, and the short story goes to the judges.
  7. I scream and everyone else fangirls and nothing gets done.

The posting on this blog will likely pick up again during or after December. Apologies to all those waiting for the additional results of the contest.

If you are one of my trusted draft readers, you probably know who you are and have poked me incessantly for months. If you don't know who you are, don't despair. You will find yourself shortly. (Actually, a few copies will also go to some die-hard fans and other friends who have been waiting, so until the list is finalized and all my emails sent, don't assume you're not getting one. Unless you don't know me. Then that would be creepy.)

(Like an assassin. Heh heh.)

(Oh yeah. All these images [except the ones of my story] are under Creative Commons. Which basically means you can use them for whatever you like without asking or crediting me, though I would love to see what you come up with. If you want unedited and/or larger versions of any of these [excluding, once again, the pictures of my story] comment and I'll see what I can do.)


Oct 7, 2013

Music for Monday: Lost At Sea

May I apologize right off for not posting the other runners-up? Thank you. The critique part of my brain is all worn out. *wipes forehead*

Before I get to the music, let me also say that my Intelligence post has now been backlinked twice. o__O That is waaay more than I ever expected. Check it out today on Sarah Ellen's blog My Double Living!

Now, a few of you may know I have never seen the sea. The closest I've been to it is Lake Michigan. I vividly remember it, whether because of the sheer vastness of the water, the stretch of nothing but water that went on longer than my ten-year-old brain could imagine, or because of the half-ton of sand in my shorts. (Mom thought that because it was too cold to swim, we wouldn't get in the water. Silly mom.)

I've always been fascinated, not necessarily with the ocean, but with the draw of the ocean. Rereading The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater has brought it to the front of my mind once again. There's something about carnivorous water horses that does that to me. (I ought to review that when I'm done with it, because it's seriously one of my favorite books ever.)

And then yesterday, I was trying my hand at a fiddle trill in a Celtic song and I rediscovered this:

Now I'm bound for the heart of the ocean
I'm riding the sea in my soul
In the dark and the deep
She will rock me to sleep
Down below... where the black waters roll

When I heard this again, I realized I had unconsciously used it as a base for my elven lullabye. Not the words, but the chord changes and the longing tone. It almost made me wish I'd included the ocean in the lyrics.

The concept of the sea as a harsh mistress, as something alive and seductive, is enchanting to me. It's something I've teased around in my head, hoping to write about someday, but never really understood. There's also a wealth of theories and mythology to dig through for inspiration, anywhere from the more common mermaids and sea monsters to exotic selkies and sirens to barely-fictional worlds like Atlantis and Lemuria. Tolkien touched on it in his books, giving the elves a hunger for the sea that makes me ache to write something as good.

"The Sea! Alas! I have not yet beheld it. But deep in the hearts of all my kindred lies the sea-longing, which it is perilous to stir. Alas! for the gulls. No peace shall I have again under beech or under elm."

If I ever get brave enough to write about the ocean, this is the music I'll use.

Two Steps from Hell - Ocean
Bypassing TSFH's more popular Ocean Princess, I came upon this gem a few months ago and absolutely love it. The introductory water-like ripples of strings, the clear female vocal, and the build to the climax place you right in an otherworldly, underwater setting.

Gargantuan Music - Ocean Sky
The ambient beginning and ringing background noises in this new discovery morph into pounding drums and strings about halfway through, led by rhythmic, metallic chimes that invite thought of pirate treasure and rolling storm waves.

Hans Zimmer - Mermaids
I don't usually go in for the heavily trademark movie scores, because I have a hard time writing to them when the main character's theme or a variation thereof appears every ten seconds. This song, however, is an exception, and only reinforces my conviction that Hans Zimmer is a genius. I've used it writing multiple mysterious and/or magical scenes and it never gets old. The floating, mournful vocals have an amazing melody I can't help humming along to, and the chanting around 3:15 never fails to get my heart pounding. I rarely use the second half, as it's more action-oriented, but it's good for the occasional listen.

Thomas Bergersen - Aura
This is one song that always crops up when I've gone out beyond where I can touch when I'm swimming, especially in anything other than a swimming pool. I'm fine until I start imagining what might be under me. Can I just say I wished more epic songs had chimes in them?

Two Steps from Hell - Behold Atlantis
To deviate from my normal choices, this is more of a sound experiment than an actual song, reminding me of numerous wandering pieces by Moby (whose music I hear all the time, since dad is his biggest fan.) With the weird blubbing and popping noises and the rising and falling strings, it definitely sets an unusual scene.

James Newton Howard - Prologue
Lady in the Water is one of those films that stuck with me. It's so unusual with such ethereal music - it's a movie that really makes you think. James Newton Howard is incredible as usual. The piano-chimes duo is subtle, understated, but ever-present through the entire soundtrack.

Two Steps from Hell - Water Reflections
Just one more TSFH piece! This one is another new discovery and incorporates such unusual instruments and melodies that I had to share. Is that guitar or something electronic? And the choir! *sighs*

So that's my music load for the day. What about you? Have you written anything about the magic of the ocean? What songs would you recommend?

Sep 25, 2013

Finding Angel by Kat Heckenbach: A Review

            The first time I met Kat, she was wearing more rings and ear cuffs than I could count, a headband that barely kept back a mass of curly reddish hair, and a black shirt with red letters that read ‘vampires don’t sparkle.’
            “Are you Kat?” I asked, eyeing the stacks of Finding Angel she was plunking down on a long table in the conference bookstore.
            “Yes!” she exclaimed, dropped her last stack, came round the end of the table, and enfolded me in a hug.
            Needless to say, we hit it off.
            To be fair, we had actually hit it off a few months before on Facebook when she asked for character Pinterest boards and I showed her my treasure trove. Our newfound friendship was sorely tested, however, when she began keeping a running count of days until the conference on my Facebook wall when I really didn’t want to be reminded. Becky Minor kept the peace by assuring me she would have smelling salts handy at the conference, which assuaged my fears. (Well, not really, but it at least made me realize I wasn’t the only nervous one.)
            Finding Angel was one of the few books written by conference attendees that I managed to finish before the actual conference rolled around. (I had a half-read copy of Merlin’s Blade in my dorm room the whole time. Sorry, Mr. Treskillard.) When I saw Kat’s disappointed status recently, saying she’d had a dream that Finding Angel got another review, I decided to surprise her. (Are you surprised? Well are ya?)

Overall: 3.5 stars
Finding Angel is the story of a girl separated from her magical heritage. She lives a normal life, until pieces of her past begin to catch up with her. A beetle, a charm bracelet, a boy with silver eyes…they all lead her back to Toch Island, the place of her birth, and her strange powers, which may help Angel solve the mysterious disappearances around the island – or reveal her to the evil man who desperately wants to find her.

This was a light, fun read with unique settings, new twists on the old fantasy elements, and a sojourn into a world where worldviews have consequences.

Concept: 4 stars
On the surface, this is your ordinary science-justified magic story. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find such delightful creatures as fractal chameleons, modern-day unicorns, and elves with their own rock bands. During my mentoring session with Kat (though it felt more like a chance for us to sit down alone and fangirl about – well, everything) I reflected that when you meet creative people, you rarely fit them with their work on the first try. Perhaps it’s the preponderance of introverted authors, but usually it takes a little while for you to see their creativity shining through. Not so with Kat. When she started talking, I immediately saw through to the mind that created Toch Island – a flamboyant, colorful, I-don’t-care-what-you-think kind of mind.

Plot: 3 stars
Unfortunately, this book suffered from a case of SMS, or Sagging Middle Syndrome. The first third was good. The last third was great. The middle – not so much. For all that it was neatly paced, with things speeding up toward the climax (as they should), I felt Angel spent a little too much time socializing, training, and playing with animals. Of course, this may be due to my allergic reaction anything approaching relaxation or warm fuzzy feelings. Give me TRAGEDEHHH!

That said, I loved the way the clues to the mystery were sprinkled through the story. It was one of those “aw, shoulda seen that coming,” moments.

Characters: 2.5 stars
My favorite books are usually the ones where I can tell you what the characters would do months later. Few live up to that hope – Incarceron, and Outlander, and The Restorer. The trouble with Finding Angel was that I wanted to love the characters – they were unpredictable, they were human, and they drove the story well. However, I had trouble telling their personalities apart, especially the main characters. This is something I suffer from myself. Besides a few overarching characteristics, my FMC often plays hard-to-get and I end up having to make her behave the way she needs to for the sake of the plot. (Odd thing, actually wishing the characters would take the scene and run with it.) But oh well; that’s what development and rewrites are for.

Technical: 3.5 stars
Technical details are not something I pay a great deal of attention to unless there is a profusion of mistakes. I have a rather different method of dealing with them than most. Some people claim to throw the books, or yell, or write the author nasty letters. I sigh. If it’s really bad, it earns a closed-eyed sigh. Woe to the book that elicits such a response! Since I don’t recall any sighing for the duration of this book, I think it was clean of any glaring errors. (This, folks, is why you don’t write a book review months after reading the book.)

Execution: 3 stars
While not the most vivid writing I’ve ever read, the style of Finding Angel is clean, uncluttered work full of unique elements. In future works, greater attention could be paid to expanding the scenes and adding more action – not necessarily swashbuckling action, as I don’t think that would fit – but more action by the characters instead of so much summary. Still, it was a bold, admirable endeavor. Also, the author is delightful. Can I add extra points for the fractal chameleons? Thank you.

Sep 17, 2013

Runner-up: Seahorse by Jonathan Garner

The sea, if Jim had to guess, was salty only because the world held so much sadness. Millions of tears fell, running in rivers of sorrow, until all the oceans in the world were salty instead of sweet.

Many of the tears were his.

His daughter had stopped smiling this morning. The doctor said Miri wouldn’t last the day. It was time to say goodbye, but he couldn’t do it yet. He needed to compose himself, and to do that, he had to get away from her and the many seahorse decorations that filled her room.

So he left the cottage and went down to the sea, where his little angel couldn’t see his tears. His wife had long since cried herself dry, but his tears came slower, and he still had a few left.

When the tears were gone, he remained sitting in the sand, staring at the waves crashing onto the beach, thinking. Everything he tried, from dancing about to saying her favorite jokes, had failed to bring a smile to his daughter.

When Miri talked of heaven, the pain left her face, but still no smile came. He wanted to give her one last smile before she left him and went to play on heaven’s beaches, but had no idea how to bring a final ray of joy to her face.

Jim stared into the water, his burning eyes seeing nothing but a blur of green. Then a brown blur got his attention, and he focused on it. A little seahorse swam in a salty wave.

It reminded him of Miri’s room, and that thought caused him to leap to his feet. Miri loved seahorses, and had always dreamed of seeing a real one, but had never got a chance to. She thought she never would.

Praying that he could change that, he ran up the sandy hill to the cottage and grabbed a jar off a windowsill. When he returned to the water, he expected the seahorse to be gone, but it was swimming through a new wave.

He splashed into the water, not caring that his clothes got wet. Dipping the jar into the sea, he pressed it downward until it was filled with water, then moved the mouth towards the seahorse. The little creature avoided his jar during several swipes, but he persisted until it was sucked in and caught.

With a violent splash, he lifted the jar out of the water, holding it up and watching it sparkle in the sun. The seahorse swam around peacefully in the jar, as if content to be in such a tiny sea.

He proceeded carefully out of the water and across the beach, not wanting to accidentally drop the jar and ruin everything. When he reached the cottage, he entered it with his treasure.

As Jim came into his daughter’s room, he saw that her eyes were closed, but her chest was rising and falling. His wife gave him a blank stare that turned quizzical as she saw the jar and his wet clothes.

When the realization of what was in the jar sunk in, a bit of life rushed into her eyes. She gently shook the little angel next to her awake.

Jim knelt next to Miri’s bed, watching the little girl’s eyes slowly come to rest upon the jar.

“Oh, Daddy,” she whispered. “A seahorse.” For one very brief moment, she smiled, and he smiled back.

Hours passed as he held the jar there for her to watch, knowing that his wish would not be granted a second time. Her breathing grew shallower, and her eyes closed, never to open again.

The doctor came and went, confirming what the young couple already knew. When they could no longer look at their daughter, they stared at the jar with the seahorse.

Somehow, even in a salty sea, beautiful things lived. As he and his wife found new tears, he hoped that good would come of these tears as well.

They left the cottage and went down to the edge of the sea. He poured the jar into an incoming wave, watching the little creature swim out into the ocean.

“Farewell,” he whispered.

Find Jonathan Garner at:

My thoughts:

Overall: 3.5 stars
In hindsight, I'm not sure why this story grabbed me so much. Perhaps it was my mood. Perhaps because I'm discovering how much bittersweet stories please me. Whatever it was, this story has a little something extra, despite its plain exterior. It seemed a shame not to include it, at least in the runners-up. Congrats to the author for creating something I just couldn't let go of.

Concept: 3.5 stars
Kudos, as well, for not cluttering up the story with a lot of other plot points. It's simple, clean, easy to follow. The "sea of sorrow" theme ties in well at the beginning and the end. Again, there are only two names. Jim and Mari. The doctor is not named, neither is the mother. This helps put the focus where it belongs - on a little girl's dying wish.
Plot: 3.5 stars
The arc is one of the most beautiful things about this story. It proceeds exactly as you expect it to. No miracles, no magic, no sudden bursts of inspiration. Yet by the end you're left with a gently unexpected feeling, like the first touch of waves on your toes.

Characters: 2.5 stars
This is one reason this piece didn't place in the top three. The characters needed more filling out, more outward and inward description. Unlike the third-place story, you're not drawn in to Jim's head. He seems merely a vessel from which to observe the events. I realize it's meant to be short, but details as to their personalities, hopes and dreams, biggest fears, could have made it even more potent. Since they're characters in a short story, you can afford to include improbable things (for instance, if Jim was afraid of water, if his daughter hoped to sail a sailboat someday, if his wife had stopped canning when their daughter got sick and he had to scramble to find a jar, et cetera), whereas in real life or in a novel, the characters' personalities and such tend to be more widely spread.

Execution: 3 stars
For the most part, though, I can class this with Grace Pennington's All My Tomorrows and say that the writing doesn't get in the way but lets the story flow naturally. The opening is another of my favorite things about this story. It's personal. It grabs you, but not too hard. It fits the tone and sets the stage very nicely.

Technical: 3.5 stars
Technically, this story is very clean, with well-crafted sentence that vary in length and structure. It didn't require any editing and I commend the author for taking time to make sure it was polished before submitting. This is another story that could have benefited from stronger writing, though. Replacing the weak verbs with stronger ones or using more inventive language would have beefed it up a bit, maybe placed it higher.

Sep 10, 2013

Nine Songs for the New World

Hey, folks! Sorry I missed my appointment with the latest short story finalist. I was, um, delayed (yeah, by your own laziness. Shut up.) I will most likely post the next one on schedule this week. Until then, let me amuse you by living up to my nickname of Jukebox Princess.

This is a post I've had in mind for a while, ever since I started working on the New World portion of my story. Even though my writing has grown vastly since I started using One Year Adventure Novel, I'm still roughly adhering to the OYAN story structure, the major points of which are as follows:

The Inciting Incident
Embracing Destiny
The New World
Black Moment
The Coming Storm

From the curriculum: 

Chapter four is our introduction to a whole new world neither we nor the hero have experienced before. This new world can be one of magic, or of a far-off land. It can be a new world of knowledge or a new trade...whatever the world of your novel is, this is where we truly see it for the first time. Another common function of [this section] is the introduction of tests posed by the new world. This new world, be it one of knowledge or of magic or of China or of slavery, is and must be a wild, untamed place with rules and dangers all its own. Such a place demands talent, skill and practice if it is to be overcome. The hero must not climb the mountain too easily or overnight.

In the case of my novel, the New World actually comes before the Embracing Destiny, but mine is also a double-whammy, with Arionwyn thrown into the dangerous realm of magic and a foreign country not entirely friendly to her kind. It's only after she embraces her destiny that she returns to territory familiar to her.

But enough of that. If you follow a structure similar to OYAN's or even any structure at all, your character is likely to encounter an unfamiliar setting once in a while. Music for these scenes is likely to be wondering, bright and hopeful, and tinged with a little bit of mystery. And that's exactly what I've tried to compile. May I present to you: Nine Songs for the New World!

Jeremy Soule - The Streets of Whiterun
This song is excellent background music for "discovery" scenes or almost any upbeat low-key scenes. The gentle piano/harp pattern in the background complement a soaring violin melody with rising strings and subtle choir.

Anne Dudley - A Different Land
Anne Dudley picks up the pace a bit in this song reminiscent of an archaic marketplace from the movie Tristan and Isolde. Bustling drums and nimble strings lend a sense of busy-ness and an alien setting without being too obvious.

John Powell - Wounded
"Why don't you away?" This brief but well-loved piece begins with a bang and rapidly descends into soft vocals, chimes, and trilling strings. Even though I've seen the movie multiple times (which usually cripples my use of the soundtrack) I can still imagine so many things to this song...mermaids, jungles, hidden treasure.

Two Steps From Hell - Beneath the Ice
In this unreleased track from TSfH's Skyworld, soft electronic chimes and low strings lead into a soaring melody that has it all - beauty, mystery, majesty, grandeur. Really makes me wonder what they found beneath the ice...

James Newton Howard - Penthouse/Training
This odd piece by James Newton Howard, a favorite composer of mine, explores the poignant, wistful sense of leaving home behind, coupled with the possible dangers of the new setting. (Allow me to geek out for a moment: Every time I hear Katniss' home theme at 1:21, it makes me want to bawl.)

Ramin Djawadi - The Kingsroad
This piece stands out of the mostly low-key Game of Thrones soundtrack. A string melody in an extended variation on the main theme sweeps across the song, breaking now and then with huge drums like waves upon the shore.

Howard Shore - The Council of Elrond
The first half of this song is an old standby of mine. Not only does it feature the beautiful voice of Enya, but it conveys a sense of starlit wonder that was just perfect for the opening scenes with Arionwyn in Laecla. The soft, alien elven theme builds into a gorgeous, floating melody featuring a minimalistic duo between Enya and a few low, melancholy strings.

Epic Soul Factory - Grasping Some Beauty
This one was a wild card for me, neither from a movie I'd seen nor an artist I liked. I can't even remember where I found it on the wide, wide web. But as soon as I heard the echoing piano melody, accompanied by the odd background noises, I was hooked. I based a drabble of mine off this song and I love it to this day.

Jo Blankenburg - Arion
I wish I had more occasion to use this one. A beautiful piano undercurrent runs through lofty strings and a gripping key change before coming to rest in a clean, majestic ending suitable perhaps for a midnight flight on dragonback. I also suggest you investigate Leaving Lemuria by the same artist.


Harry Gregson-Williams - Journey to the How
I probably listened to the first minute and forty-eight seconds of this song about 200 times while writing in one of my favorite settings: The Boundary Forest. It made me very glad my mp3 player has a "repeat section" function, because that minute-and-forty-eight-seconds is about as perfect for my setting as a piece of music can get. Harp trills and fairy-like chimes pervade the background of this gentle but ominous track. I think I've listened to the rest of it about twice. Picky, I know.

Well, there you have it: nine songs for your new world. (Ten if you count the last third of one.) Have I missed any of your favorites? What music have you used for writing the New World in your novel?

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