Marginalia || Starcraft: Speed of Darkness

Starcraft: Speed of Darkness by Tracy Hickman.

Given Hickman wrote this one, I had high expectations. (Hickman wrote a lot of the Dragonlance novels, among other things.) I was not disappointed. This essay will probably be shorter, since I don't want to spoil anything. Wow, does this book pack a punch. Highly recommend it to Hickman and Starcraft fans.

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Loved this book, I'll probably reread this one next year.

Marginalia || Starcraft: Queen of Blades

This time I'm reviewing the book Starcraft: Queen of Blades by Aaron Rosenberg. Obviously set in the Starcraft universe, which is a game series created by Blizzard Entertainment. For those who never played the games: think space western, with aliens with motherships and laser beams; as well as aliens similar to the kind Sigourney Weaver kicks ass and takes numbers from; and humans with mech armor and siege tanks.

I bought about a dozen Starcraft novels during the holidays, because they were $2 a piece on Kindle. And because my inner fanboy wanted them. No arguing with the inner fanboy, who usually gets what he wants. Whiny brat...

For anyone wanting to read Starcraft along with me... don't start with Queen of Blades. The author gives enough back story so someone unfamiliar with the game can follow along. Which is awesome and well executed. The book is campy as hell, but I expected that, so I have no problem with campiness. The things is, Queen of Blades is just badly written. Horrible and stupid aren't proper words to describe the experience. Horribly stupid, stupidly horrible. I've read better fanfic. I only read this train wreck because the fanboy wanted to read it. Otherwise, had it not been a Starcraft novel, I would have deleted it from my Kindle. Or thrown the paperback across the room.

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Queen of Blades was only enjoyable as a short romp through the Starcraft world, but failed in terms of storytelling. Very little to see here, unless you have a fanboy to feed.

Marginalia || The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences (Books 1 & 2)

After a few years of largely ignoring LJ, I've decided to restart my marginalia, reviews, and critiques of books I read. Probably won't do this for every book (I never did). Mostly, this is for me to discuss the books I enjoy, and to make fun of dissect the books that annoy me. It helps me as a writer to identify the characters, plots, and world-building that work for me. As a reader, this exercise helps me to relearn how to read as a READER.

Off we go...

"The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences" (written by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris) takes place in an alternate world London at the turn of the century, where steampunk devices rule the day and a top secret British agency stands against evil and anything that threatens the Crown. Agent Eliza D. Braun is reluctantly partnered with Agent Wellington Thornhill Books in an assignment that is supposed to keep them in the Ministry's archives -- but together they find trouble, chaos, and crimes to solve.

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"The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences" is a B-grade series, but it never takes itself too seriously and is not above cheesy action and dialogue. The characters are highly likeable. Overall, I think these books are a must-read for any steampunk fans. I look forward to the next book, Dawn's Early Light, and will look for the short stories associated with this series.

on finding buried treasure

Among the many perks of being a writer, I'm expected to be have a lot of trash. I devote three pages a day to trash writing: collected random thoughts, run-on sentences with no end in sight, ideas that may never survive the muse's harsh axe. This, as well as the scattered paperwork I have collected over the years. Bank statements, term papers, commencement programs, various magazines, class notes. I am an eclectic collector.

On occasion trash has to be taken out, that is the nature of trash. It is collected, bagged, curbed. Often I have thrown out trash at major and minor life turning points. Starting a new job, beginning a new semester, selling old furniture. Currently I am in the midst of redecorating, I will soon have a new office and a new bedroom (the old office will be the new bedroom and vice verse). The process has made writing challenging at times as I clean out desk drawers and move things around. The next installment to Tales from the Square has gotten nowhere. I can't call it writer's block, since I'm writing just fine at the moment. More like the chaos spreading all around me -- books and file folders piled on the floor, spare mattresses leaning against the wall, a desk lamp underneath my desk -- is slowing down my fiction generating machine.

Inside the mess I have found gems. Small trinkets from people I haven't seen in years and may never see again. Reminders of my past. And old writing has resurfaced, even the manuscripts from before I consciously decided to make writing my career. I found notes for my first novel from the mid-2000's (an incomplete manuscript, maybe five-thousand words of sword and sorcery, and an juvenile failure). Scattered across several notebooks and folders are over a decade's worth of poems beginning in the late '90's. I may even start anew on putting together a poetry collection. Words of Gravity sounds like a cool title, but maybe I've been listening to a lot of Astronomy Cast lately.

Buried in an obscure place at the bottom of one closet was a stack of neatly paper clipped papers filled with editing notes and marginalia -- my first draft of a story set in my Enchantment world, which had been my first 2-Year Novel project. Holding this manuscript in my hands was the equivalent of striking gold. I couldn't help but smile as I flipped through the pages. Nine chapters, a completed story. I chronicled the writing of this one here on LJ under the "enchantment" tag, and I very specifically remember using the Write Or Die website to complete it. From the editing marks I didn't get very far on making a second draft and the quality of the writing itself is okay at best (haven't taken the time to sit down and read it yet).

But to my eyes it is a beautiful story. I haven't felt this giddy in awhile. I very much want to read it and maybe even publish it in some form or another. The characters still evoke strong emotions in me. I'm still very much in love with the Gamla Uppsala (Viking-era Sweden) setting. Deep inside me I've got this connection to the story that never quite died even when I forgot about for a few years. The muse never totally nor irrevocably axed this project, the little spark sputters on and perhaps with some care I can grow it.

Perhaps when the muse refuses to swing her axe at a project and instead buries it among clutter, it's best to let the work germinate for a time. I imagine the editing didn't get far because I lacked the necessary tools. I hate editing to no end, but maybe now I can re-write the manuscript or retell the story in a new way. Finding random buried treasure is never totally random. This manuscript is ready to be read by fresh eyes. At worst, the muse is grinding her axe. I can only imagine what I'll find years from now as I look back on my three-page mind-dumps.

TftS: The Managers (Infodump)

Yes, this story is still alive. Been distracted lately, and once I get off-track I struggle with getting back on. The secret is to stop complaining and get back at it. :)

Little progress word count wise today, but I took some steps forward in deciding plot elements relationships between the characters. So far I have a lot of characters in a short amount of narrative, I hope to perhaps expand a little. Short of that, at least bring the characters a little closer together and give them things to fight over.

Also, the beginning of chapter 2 is essentially an infodump, which annoys me as a reader. At tonight's writing meeting, one person suggested giving the reader some kind of cool distraction, e.g. the pope swimming (nobody thinks about the pope swimming, so the reader will be thinking about that while reading the infodump). Okay, think I have something cool in the scene: an ugly-cute goblin reporter in a broom closet office. But I also felt like I needed more conflict -- something for Ms. Goblin and Brin to argue over. I think I got the basics for that put in now, just have to flesh it out a bit more in my editing pass.

On that note, I have a few tiny notebook pages of notes about character conflict and world-building. Notably, I have Brin's two basic choices written down and possible character who might be hurt by each choice. More conflict... This is getting interesting, even if still vague and not quite written down yet.

Now I feel it's necessary to do a tarot spread, which I hadn't done yet. Normally I might do a spread before writing, if at all. Also normally I don't a lot of planning with Brin stories. The story is still very much organic -- I have no clue what's going to happen, nor do I know how these events will change Brin. A tarot spread will help guide me here. What I'm looking for is the state of Brin's life at the moment of the story's beginning.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss the spread I made and my interpretation of the cards (without giving away spoilers).

TftS: The Managers (Day 4)

Okay, got a late start. Did my 3-pages of crap earlier, took a break, watched the news, did some other stuff. Only wrote a small amount, but it's adding up.

About 500 words, for a new grand total of 4,107. I spent some time writing down issues I have so far -- too many characters (possibly), poor cliffhanger moment at the end of chapter one, and (not a huge issue yet) I need to have bigger stakes for Brin. Also there's a character who does nothing but beat up Brin and disappear -- he plays a very central role in the story, and I think at this point his first scene needs to be expanded with some minor infodump from him.

Two choices for Brin to make: 1) end up working for the Managers (an AI and the main antagonist) or 2) steal the Managers' backup data system.

And then two questions for me to answer: 1) What are the stakes with both of these choices? and 2) Who does Brin hurt when she chooses one or the other?

The story is taking a little more shape, but I have still have little idea what the bigger plot arch looks like. A lot more questions than those above, actually. The Managers want something too. I'm still excited for this story, perhaps only because I have no idea how it will turn.

TftS: The Managers (Day 3)

Progress so far:

Day 1: 1,751

Day 2: 752

Total: 2,503

Okay, not great progress so far. Typed another 500 words so far today, Chapter 1 is will be done once I do some edits. By edits, in this case at least, is twofold: 1) I'm adding a new character and will have to work him in to the narrative, and 2) those 500 words are pretty sloppy, so I'd like to tighten my prose a little while the scene is on my mind.

I still need to do my 3-page braindump, then I have a writer's meet tonight. Should be able to get some more done there, and likely start on chapter 2. More later.

ETA: The next day: Didn't get much further. Day three progress is 1,048 for a total of 3,551.

TftS: The Managers (Day 2)

First order of business, the daily word count.

Day 1: 1,751

Pretty normal day so far. Ate, went to the library to exchange books, did my daily three page braindump, and watched a lecture on forensic science (from the Great Courses). Now I'm off to do a writing session. Chapter 1 can be finished tonight! Quite certain of that. Will update later.

2 AM. I don't have the energy to keep going, and I didn't write much today. 751. Okay, but I know I am better than this. Doesn't help I'm coming off a slump. Chapter 1 is still not finished.

The word count so far: 2,503.

TftS: The Managers (Day 1)

For the month of May I'll be writing a new installment of my Tales from the Square series and will chronicle my writing process here on LJ. I have only a two guidelines for myself:

1. The manuscript must have all the elements of a story (plot, characters, beginning, middle, end, etc.) and must be complete.

2. The story needs to be at least novella size. Truthfully, I have no set word count in mind -- 20k words at least but if it becomes a novel, hey awesome.

3. The bulk of the manuscript must be done in the May. No real deadline, but I want at least a draft before I find a new shiny story to focus on. And I have plenty of shiny stories...

I have very few ideas on what the manuscript will be about. Obviously it's set in my TftS universe, the narrator and protagonist is Brin, and the action takes place more or less on Brin's home turf. The main gist for the story came from a braindump I did a few days ago about a carnival run by an artificial intelligence known as "the Managers". I have a few other details (erm, spoilers) that I'm keeping secret, but I have no outline and only a vague working knowledge of what might happen in this story.

The writing started earlier tonight (around 9-10 pm) when I found an unfinished story about Brin and a tarocchi (tarot) fortune teller at a carnival. I still liked the scene, so I'm using that as my opening. I spent a little bit of time editing so it fits with what I'm working on now. Came home, took a break to play a game and...

I'm doing at least one writing session tonight. Probably won't finish Chapter 1 tonight. We'll see.

4:00 AM. I'm calling it a night here. Beginning with the 1000 words or so from the scene I already had, the story is now at 1,751 words. Slow progress, honestly, but not all bad... I had a snack, watched it rain, and did some stretching in between writing. Chapter 1 is certainly not done. Off to bed now.