Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Video | HBO's Game of Thrones Trailer, Season 2

Virtually every blog I watch has already posted this - but just in case you missed it:

Season 2: Preview - You Win or You Die

Damn... that gave me chills. I can't wait! 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Reading Journal | 1-30-2012

I know I said I'd do it weekly. I GUESS I LIED. (Or, I didn't read anything last week.)

I know I also said I was reading Marquise de Sade, but I can't read that type of prose at this stage in my editing and revisions. So that's shelved for now.

In related news, I got a late Xmas gift of a KINDLE. Which means I get all sorts of new variety in my non-fiction and classic fiction, which enhances my TBR pile significantly. In a good way. I'm excited.

Here's what I've read this past fortnight.

The Warded Man - Peter V. Brett. 2009. (Epic Fantasy, New Author, Male, Series)

From the Amazon page: 
"As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise—demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night." 
I was pretty excited to finally get this - it's educational to see what publishers (especially big ones like Del Rey) are looking for in debut novelists. As debut novels go, this was pretty strong. The worldbuilding was elaborate and very well-construed.

It was a curious thing to watch the children become adults - something that we don't see enough of in this genre - but I'm not sure I was ever truly concerned for their life, despite plenty of opportunities to cheer or gasp for the protagonists.

The magic system (of wards) is excellent - perhaps the best part of the world-building, and the story is told well enough such that you're not asking, "Really? No one thought of this or that before now?" (Well, some might.)

The next book in the series is The Desert Spear.

- and -

Last Argument of Kings - Joe Abercrombie. 2008. (Epic Fantasy, Male, Series)

Back cover:
The end is coming.
Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him-but it's going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the king of the Northmen still stands firm, and there's only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy: it's time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.
With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war. A secret struggle in which no one is safe, and no one can be trusted. As his days with a sword are far behind him, it's fortunate that he's deadly with his remaining weapons: blackmail, threats, and torture.
Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is too painful an undertaking and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves. But love can be painful too-and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it.
The king of the Union lies on his deathbed, the peasants revolt, and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No one believes that the shadow of war is about to fall across the heart of the Union. Only the First of the Magi can save the world, but there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, than to break the First Law...

Mr. Abercrombie can weave a dark, fantastic tale. If there's anyone out there talking about "dark, gritty, realistic fantasy" - they're comparing it to him. Had I not read the trilogy to its beautifully honest conclusion, I would never have believed that any author had the talent to take absolutely villainous miscreants and make them sympathetic. The cost of war, the cost of choices, the cost of dark magic - everything handled brilliantly, fairly. Characters are seen through to the end: nothing is as it seems, but it's quite exactly as it should be.

Prose, worldbuilding, plot - all excellent. Characters stumble, grow, fail, get beat up, grow some more.

Also, confession: I'm jealous of the dialect and prose of the Northmen. It's perfect. I want it in my head.

Could I read 50 books like this? No, no, no. But I'll be reading more Abercrombie, or rereading this series. Because sometimes fairies and miracles and magic swords DON'T save the day. Not for the faint of heart whatsoever, but if you hear people talking about 'dark fantasy' and want to see exactly how it should be done? Start here: The Blade Itself: The First Law: Book One . Thank me afterwards.


This week - Non-fiction, and something light in fiction. Have to tinker with the Kindle, dontcha know?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Musical Interlude - Etta James

Hers was a beautiful, rich, distinct, powerful voice with honest and compelling lyrics. May she rest in peace.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Reading Journal | 1-16-2012

So continues my sojourn into keeping up with my goals this year, and paying attention to what I read (and watch). As with the other (writing journal), I'm not exactly sure what I want to do with the format just yet, so we'll just keep this nice and simple.

Reading Journal:

Finished Conqueror by Conn Iggulden. LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Review posted. (Historical Fiction, New Author (to me), Male)

Finished From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris. Loved it. Harris' skill continues to grow with each book in the series, as well as the evolution from a series of stand alone stories to a growing epic urban fantasy. Also, a female protagonist who is neither a super hero nor utterly weak, Sookie increasingly makes tough emotional decisions and stands her ground and has to live with the decisions she's made. Is this series as dramatic or complex as most of the fantasy I read? Absolutely not. It's light, it's fun, it's part mystery, part paranormal romance, part urban fantasy. It's certainly escapist - but it's well done - and I believe that to be the point. I am certain to continue with the series. (Urban Fantasy, Female Author)

Next: Marquis de Sade, one of his stories in the anthology I have.

Viewing Journal:

Barbarians - The Mongols.  Was surprised to find this whole History channel documentary on YouTube. It was informative, of course, and more content than I expected. For me, it went hand in hand with Mongol (2007), in my collection, and Conqueror, above. Research wise, the Mongols intrigue me tremendously due to their nomadic lifestyle and effective war strategy - there's at least one or two tribes in Zherlios that will eventually parallel the Mongols, one way or the other (although not entirely).

History's Turning Points - BC 31, Battle of Actium. This was a historical documentary, reflected in Season Two of HBO's Rome. The interesting facts from this were that Octavius wasn't a member of the household (as the fiction suggested), and the slightly less romantic tale of Antony and Cleopatra. However, historically accurate or not, both of those arcs, as well as the warfare involved, make for fantastic fiction.

History's Turning Points - BC 480 - Battle of Salamis. Everyone knows the infamous Battle of Thermopylae, but what is lesser known is that the Persians continued to advance after defeating the Spartans. Ultimately, the Persians were beaten at sea, then again on land by a larger Greek force. This documentary covered those events, with the focus on the naval battle in the Bay of Salamis.

What's fascinating to me, in watching the documentaries, is the level of technology present 2,000 years ago. So often genre readers complain about how all fantasies are set in "medieval" or "Renaissance" settings - but most of the technologies that are considered medieval were actually developed in classical times, in the reign of the ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek and Persian Empires.

The Fellowship of the Ring (extended version), The Two Towers (extended version), and The Return of the King (extended version). With The Hobbit (Part 1) coming out in December, I thought it was reasonable to rewatch the trilogy. Watching the modernization of Tolkien is refreshing and inspiring. In many ways, I respect and appreciate his tropes, his world-building, his bestiary. (Truly, for a good time, look up "do Dwarven women have beards" on the internet. Hilarious.) In this way, I think the established tropes should be left alone, and accepted as they are.

However, I couldn't help but notice that the Hobbits as a race aren't particularly believable - and with what I've seen of The Hobbit so far - Dwarves are comedy relief. In my own writings, Halflings are more functional and organized as a tribe, and Dwarves take themselves a little more seriously. And, yes, Dwarven women do have beards. Even in real life, one culture's definition of beauty is not the same as the next. In terms of moral ambiguity (Tolkien is too black and white, it is said), I don't think there's wrong with GOOD vs EVIL. It has a place and it's escapist and entertaining and clean. But I also enjoy shades of grey. If you look close enough, even in Peter Jackson's telling, it's not all "super good" versus "super bad", it's a great deal of "mostly good" versus "mostly bad". This is another post altogether, for another time.


Anything that I've read or seen that you are curious about? Do ask! Otherwise, have a great week!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Conqueror: A Novel of Kublai Khan by Conn Iggulden

As part of the Librarything Early Reviewers program, I received Conqueror: A Novel of Kublai Khan by Conn Iggulden.

The synopsis from Amazon:

The novels of Conn Iggulden bring the past to thrilling life, from ancient Rome to thirteenth-century Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Now he delivers the spectacular story of the rise of Genghis Khan’s grandson, a man destined to become one of the most remarkable rulers who ever lived—the legendary Kublai Khan. 
A succession of ruthless leaders has seized power in the wake of the great Khan’s death—all descendants of Genghis, but none with the indomitable character that led a people to triumph. One grandson, Guyuk, decadent and vicious, seeks to consolidate his position through bribery and murder, pitting powerful factions against one another and straining the loyalties of the tribes to the breaking point.  
Next comes his cousin, Mongke, who eliminates all possible opposition with breathtaking brutality and dispatches his younger brothers Kublai and Hulegu to far-flung territories, to test their mettle and their allegiance. 
Hulegu displays his barbarity with the savage destruction of Baghdad and his clash with the Khan’s age-old enemies, the cult of assassins, who will strike deep into the heart of the nation. But it is Kublai—refined and scholarly, always considered too thoughtful to take power—who will devise new ways of warfare and conquest as he builds the dream city of Xanadu and pursues the ultimate prize: the ancient empire of Sung China. His gifts will serve him well when an epic civil war breaks out among brothers, the outcome of which will literally change the world.
Brilliantly researched and imagined, unforgettably told, Conqueror is a magnificent achievement from an enthralling writer at the peak of his powers, a must read for all lovers of history and storytelling on the grand scale.

When we hear tales about the Mongols, we almost always hear about Genghis Khan in the same breath. For this reason, it was refreshing to see a historical fiction about his grandson, Kublai Khan, the Mongol who ruled the territory that became present day China.

According to the author's website, this is the fifth and final novel in the "Conqueror" series. I hadn't previously read any of the previous books, and it didn't affect my understanding of the events within the story whatsoever.

The story itself is fascinating, and the factual and/or historical aspects only lend itself to the incredulity of what Kublai Khan ultimately achieved in his lifetime. We start off with him as a young man, a scholarly type, and follow along as his other relatives become Khan, during which time Kublai learns the ways of warfare - the tale ends shortly after he becomes the Great Khan.

That was probably the biggest disappointment in the story itself - there was so much more to tell - particularly his struggle in conquering the Chin territories (of present day China) - and so it seemed that the story ended sooner than it could or should have. However, this led to a greater focus on the other influences in Kublai's life, as well as the challenges he had to overcome before he could even become the Great Khan.

In retrospect, it's rather interesting to feel sympathy towards a conqueror, particularly since - although Kublai was somewhat refined as opposed to much of his kin - the Mongols, as a tribe, were considered barbaric compared to the cultures that they defeated. You wouldn't expect to feel that way - it's like cheering for Darth Vader at the height of his strength - and that sensation alone is a tremendous testament towards Iggulden's storytelling skills.

On the downside, the prose had some issues. Particularly in the beginning, there was a good deal of "head hopping" and it was hard to follow the narrative voice and attributed thoughts, feelings and dialogue. In some places, the sentences were choppy, as if translated from another language (perhaps intentional? I doubt it). I struggled with the fluidity of the prose for the first portion of the story, almost to the point where I might not have finished. Several chapters in, the problem was less prevalent, and the action of the story most certainly overcame any flaws in the telling. I flew through the last two-thirds of the story in half the time it took me to get there.

I know there are other stories with difficult beginnings, which is the only reason I mention this. To someone who is going to pick this up, knowing the gist of the tale, I would suggest soldiering on, and it'll pay off.

Overall, Kublai Khan's story, the immersion into Mongol history/culture and the appreciation to be gained for a relatively unsympathetic historical character far outweighs any of the flaws of the telling.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Writing Journal: 1/13/2012

It wasn't a productive week, I'm afraid. I've had a sinus migraine for the better part of the last two weeks, adjusting to a new sleep schedule and hammering out some domestic issues.

It's arguable that, in so many words, if I can make excuses now, then I'm an amateur writer. Butt in seat, and all that. Yes? Yes. However, one doesn't put a roof and walls on the house before the foundation is built. I know, from my experience, that I can be extremely productive once my environment is settled. So, right now, I'm focusing on settling domestic concerns and taking care of my health. Also, because I can - I'll worry about handling deadlines when I actually have them. ;-)

Not sure yet what I want to include or not in these posts, so for today, it's short and sweet, just to keep me on my program. Have a great weekend!

Original Writing:
Dirty Girl. Scene. Erotica*. 1282 words.
Best to indulge and reminisce, rather than to forego and regret.

A Gift. Flash fiction. Erotica. 305 words.
The lingerie draped her soft, feminine curves, in just the right way - revealing some, alluding more.

2012 Goals post. Essay.

Next project: Book review of Conqueror by Conn Iggulden, for Librarything.

Editing / Revising:

Catalyst: Revised and shortened Chapter 103 to completion. (Not an actual chapter number - just coding for my reference.) Forwarded to beta reader. 2,728 words.

Orcs occasionally were found in the western passages. They were few and far between, never organized, and easily dissuaded. Over the years, of course, there had been some fighting, some unfortunate deaths when a Dwarf was caught unawares, but the creatures remained a vague threat. One was more likely to fall in a river of lava, or die beneath a cavern's collapse, than to be killed by an Orc. 

Began revisions to Chapter 105. 6720 words. Material to be carried from excisions in 103, material to be removed, and material to be pushed forward. Tribal dialects to be removed and replaced.

Total Word count, as of 1/14: 133,468
Goal: 125,000 (or less)

* A note on writing erotica. Sex scenes are often the most criticized in any fiction. However, done correctly, they are able to reveal a character's truest sense of self, vulnerabilities, passions, etc. Additionally, bedroom and relationship dynamics are often a reasonable way to explore cultural and gender beliefs and nuances. Lastly, it is the use of a scene in order to evoke an emotional response from the reader. While I enjoy writing provocatively, writing short erotica pieces allows me to hone my skills of visual, emotional and physical interactions. I could probably omit mention altogether, but I am simply not that shamed by it, and these reports are as much for my own use as they might be interesting to anyone else.

Monday, January 9, 2012

2012 Goals | Reading, Writing, Blogging, Personal

I confess that I'm a bit of a hypocrite - because I've been reading posts about everyone's goals for the new year and I roll my eyes. I'm sure it's documented somewhere that most new year resolutions fall off by February.

And here I am. A sheep. In Wolfe's clothing. Ha ha.

I guess that I'm doing this obligatory post mostly for my own satisfaction - this blog gets some hits, but I don't have the followers or comments here that I've had elsewhere. For now. I'm going to work on that.

When I kept a review blog a year or two ago, there was slightly more traffic and/or watchers - though I suspect that this was a function of "You watch my blog and I'll watch yours." Still. One of the things I did at the beginning of the month was to "mark all as read" in my google reader, and I've been keeping up ever since. Eventually, I'll get around to actually commenting, and (theoretically) that will bring more traffic.

Why? Because it's more interesting to post when people respond.

Reading Goals: Mondays, I'm going to post my reading journal. My goal is a fiction book a week, and one non-fiction book per month. Last year, I read several authors that were new to me, and I want to continue this trend, as well as returning to authors whose skill is much greater than mine, such as Jacqueline Carey, Guy Gavriel Kay and George R. R. Martin. I also want to balance male and female authors. There's something to be gained, as a male author, by reading a female's voice.

In fiction, I am going to return to epic fantasy and historical fantasy as my primary reading efforts - with urban fantasy for my leisure/entertainment reading (meaning: Going to finish up the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, and continue with Patricia Briggs and Carrie Vaughn). I'm going for a ratio of 3 epic fantasy per historical and urban fantasies read.

Last year I didn't keep stats for my reading - this year I'm going to keep records, so that I can look back and see how well I did. Why? Reading is part of an author's job. Seeing what others do right, do wrong, do differently, do exceptionally well. The enjoyment I find in reading a well-crafted tale inspires me and my muse towards my own material.


Writing Goals: "Catalyst" is about 40% revised and edited and sitting at about 135k words. There are some fatty sections that need to be trimmed to appeal to the current market. There are some parts that need to be added as well. Ideally, I suspect I should aim for 110k words, but my goal is 125k. Adding in a few antagonist(s) POV chapters, I believe, will support that word count.

Beyond that? Two short stories that fall in the same timeline as "Catalyst", that I need to write for the canon of the world events and tribal foundations. They are mostly notes on pages at this point, though I have the stories in my head. After those are written, I'd like to put down at least 50,000 words towards the next full length project. Ideally, twice that.

Professionally, "Catalyst" to be ready for submission by summertime, giving me a few months by which to hone my query letter and continue research on suitable agents. Not likely a process I will be detailing too much here.

Lastly, the availability of online writing workshops and their relative drop in price has made me reconsider them. I'd like to attend at least one class here, or attend one or two workshops online, before the end of the year. The benefits are countless - but first and foremost, I need to have a finished manuscript.


Personal goals.

My financial and domestic situation has never fully balanced out since becoming unemployed in summer 2009. I've worked sporadically in 2010/2011, but nothing special (or permanent), as it turns out. Ultimately, staying with friends and struggling to make ends meet goes a long way towards distracting me from creativity - so this is something I've got to take some time and get on top of. Essentially, I have to choose to pursue writing as my career and find a job that will support that - or pursue my career and go back to writing as a secondary venture. What I'm doing now is neither, and it's not working. I need my own place, my own workspace, and a sense of sanctuary.

Last week, I started working out at a gym. You might be surprised to learn that I'm out of shape, because I'm rather slender. I gained a lot of weight when I was unemployed - and it all went to my midsection. Also, I haven't pursued any serious fitness regimen in over a decade, so I've not only gained some fat, but I've lost what muscle I did have.

Turns out I function better when I get up super early in the morning, work out and get on with the day. That's not terribly surprising, after all - more like a "duh" moment. But it feels good, and I'm in need of it.

Which means I have to quit smoking. I actually like smoking... there's something useful about getting up from the computer, stepping outside, gazing at the surroundings... I have done my best thinking while smoking. But it's also stupid to run 2 miles on a treadmill and then smoke afterwards. Really, really stupid. I just turned 40 last year, and ... yes, it's time to quit. Today, I try the nicotine patch. We'll see how it goes.

It's a funny thing, gaining weight and balancing nutrition with Crohn's Disease. Working out (and quitting smoking) makes you eat more - but Crohn's is not kind to absorption, and the biggest problem I've had with quitting in the past is being able to process all the extra food that I want to eat. I'm hoping that balancing this out with more physical activity will give my body something to do with the extra food, rather than it just irritating my intestines. The other side of that issue is that, due to bad nutrient absorption, all that working out is wasted and muscles don't get what they need to heal. I'm happy to have gained weight, but I need to make this program work so that I can convert it into muscle from fat.

Lastly, this year, I'm happy. I got a little angsted towards the end of 2011, between personal challenges and things not working out the way I would have liked. Not only was it a bummer towards my creativity, but it made me angry and depressed and all sorts of feelings that I decided that I didn't like. You pretty much reach a point where you have to decide what you're going to do - keep doing what you're doing, or do something different. With the New Year came the perfect timing and excuse to get back on track.

All things considered, life is good. Getting better. I just had to remember that.


Blogging goals.

Reading journal, writing journal - mostly for me, to see if what I think I'm doing actually has any basis in reality. Also, because I want to compare my progress to the book review blogs I read (morbid curiosity). (Also, also) I think I will track sf/f, historical fantasies and documentaries that I watch - I find myself connecting pieces of puzzles with certain stories told with documentaries covering something similar, etc. You'll see, or rather, I'll see how that works out. Har.

Reviewing - I will still do the occasional review for Librarything, whenever I get chosen there. Beyond that, I'm not inclined to review current works/authors - plenty of folks doing that, and they're much better than me. However, for non-fiction and for older works (Marquis de Sade is on my TBR pile), I will likely write up something more comprehensive - though it still won't be a review.

I have ideas for features, and it will really just be a matter of seeing if I have the time to implement them. I like the idea of divulging some of Zherlios' canon, revealing some of the worldbuilding tidbits here and there - with the possible issue of some factoids changing over time as I do more research. I notice that certain issues spring up on author/reviewer/sff blogs that I may pipe in with my 2 cents worth. (The latest one is moral ambiguity in fiction, which is a rehashed argument from a year ago.)

I like the idea of exploring fantasy tropes, and pursuing the idea I started a couple of years ago. Though, I'm not certain if this doesn't fall in with worldbuilding/canon. Going to play this by ear, too.

Magic the Gathering: I've done little more than collect a ton of cards as a hobby, but Dark Ascension is coming out at the end of the month, and the one MTG post I wrote last year has more hits than anything else I've written.

Problem with certain topics is that you pretty much can't discuss anything that someone else hasn't already covered and with likely more skill. Technically, that shouldn't matter.

Ultimately, though, this blog remains a playground for thoughts and ideas and a place to share. The goal is simply to generate more discussions and be more consistent with content. We'll go from there.


Big ass post. Damn. I gotta work on that, too.

What are your goals in 2012?