Victory!: A Writer’s Tale

“He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!”
~Emily Dickinson

What a week! Weddings going viral (and purple) in Westeros (no really, I’ve been waiting for that GOT moment for far, FAR too long), Winter returning (and departing again) to Michigan just to make sure we didn’t miss it too badly, and a lot of serious progress made on As Feathers Fall. I’ve hit some roadblocks on that path in the last couple months, but I think I’m finally getting my footing back. I’m in a good place, and the scenes that are coming from that place are making this little writer downright giddy.

Speaking of writing, though, I’ve some rather serious news for my fellow blogophiles out there.

Monday evening, about 10 o’clock, I was sitting around the old apartment when I got a mysterious phone call. Private number and all that. When I pick up, who does it turn out to be? The good people at the Dyer-Ives Foundation.

What is Dyer-Ives, you might ask? They are an organization in Michigan dedicated to building grassroots, neighborhood organizations and fighting poverty and isolation, with a particular focus on my fellow Grand Rapids residents.

What might they want with me? Well, Dyer-Ives also happens to host an annual Kent County Poetry Competition—this year will mark their 46th year doing so. After consideration, my poem “Grand River” was selected as the winner of their adult competition!

Yet after some serious hopping, skipping and jumping for joy, the turn of phrase comes with certain other rewards as well. In addition to publication (winning poems and poets—that’s me!—will be posted online at dyer-ives.org later this Spring), the foundation will also be hosting a poetry reading at the Michigan Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, at which I have been invited to give a public reading of my poem.

Glee, I say. Sheer, unadulterated glee in this update!

Stay tuned for future posts on the when details, in addition to the above where, for the reading—and thank you all for the support that has helped me grow to this point. I wouldn’t be the poet I am today without you all.

Book Review: The Alchemist of Souls

Whenever I hear the words “historical fantasy,” I confess one name tends to leap to mind: Guy Gavriel Kay. Having only recently (geologically speaking) been introduced to the cult of this literary great, I confess that he has given the genre new life in my eyes, and laid a rather hefty level for other participants to aspire to.

This said, The Alchemist of Souls is one of these aspirants, being set in the Elizabethan era—an era utterly ripe for adventure, politicking, or general miscreantism of any sort. This being a stand-alone (another oh-so-glorious rarity amongst its kind), it’s not a book that can stand to waste any time; nor does it. It puts us at the time of the grand American discovery, in the shoes of the unfortunate Mal, a (well I suppose that’s pretty standard) once grandiose swordsman reduced to mercenary work, chiefly as the bodyguard to the Skrayling ambassador—a people discovered in the aforementioned New World.

The Skraylings are also where the magical/fantastical elements come in, as these folk are possessed of some rather strange capabilities therein. Unfortunately, Mal discovers those abilities may provide some hazard rather contrary to the whole…ambassadorial thing. Join him with another classic trope of a scheming girl masquerading as a boy, and some all around plotting, and the recipe is set for some fine adventurous dining.

In spite of some traditional elements, however, The Alchemist of Souls proves that a dash of “cliché” need not mean an instant rolling of the eyes—it constantly takes those traditional elements and turns them on their head. It plays with the classics and brings them to delightful ends; cliché does not become a lack of detail, for it is a world of details. The ending is satisfying, the world and the characters alike breathe with human life—which is to say, they feel natural. They can also be biased as hell—because, well, history and all that.

Which is, when you think about it, par for the course. We see the Elizabethan Age as a golden one, and in many regards, it was. However, even the shiniest of beacons come with their flaws—seedy plotting, crafty intrigue, bigots, violence. Nothing’s perfect; nor does our author attempt to paint this world as such, and it rings all the truer for it.

Essentially, you have a vibrant historical setting, injected with a touch of the magical, intricate characters, and some pretty solid surprises. In other words? It’s good. It’s very good. It’s a delightful addition to the historical fantasy genre, and should not be missed by any fans of that genre.

National Poetry Month & a Novelicious Preview

AtFaithsEndIt occurs to me that it has been some time since I had an update on my novelicious progress–which is to say, an update on “As Feathers Fall,” the third and final novel in my Haunted Shadows fantasy trilogy. At the same time, it’s National Poetry Month. As a writer, I should be focused; quite the conundrum that leaves me in. Fortunately, I have just the solution.

Oh, I’m still going poetic on you all, but this time it also happens to be an excerpt from chapter 6 of the novel. Faithful readers: can you guess who might be pondering, and whom they might be pondering about?

In ebon hour

all men know the baker’s power

the rite of life

beyond, betwixt, by edge of knife—

a magic notwithstanding

a birthing in the powdered breathing

where hand, on hand, the flesh

commits by blind and dust enmesh

salvation in creation:

solidifying by fiery consumption.

More updates will be forthcoming in time! Stay patient! Stay strong!

Book Review: Halting State

This was my first involvement with a Stross novel—to the chagrin of some of my more varyingly read friends—but after this unique little stepping off point, I think there’s potential for some trail prodding down his road after this. Halting State is a near-future Sci-fi novel set in a post secession Scotland (relevancy and timeliness points!). That, however, is not the point of the novel—that lies in the crime.

A crime, you ask? Egads, who lies at the heart of this madness? Well, that’s the question. The crime in question is a digital caper, one that has left Hayek Associates—economists for online games—robbed, in a way that suggests someone’s making use of cryptographic keys. Enter the cops, panicky insurers, and an ex-game developer filling the role of partner and consultant to the aforementioned cops. These take the form of three different protagonists, sent to tackle a robbery that only seems to form the first piece in a very large puzzle.

To begin, I would be remiss if I did not address the POV, as it will no doubt put a lot of people off—and very nearly did to me—in the manner of its approach. From the earliest days of English class it was beaten into all of our heads that second person POV—let alone second person POV for THREE different branches of a novel—is bad. Very bad. So bad you want to whack it with a stick.

Naturally, Stross broke that stick and threw it in the woods, before proceeding to mix his language with a whole bunch of technobabble. It’s daunting, and it’s off-putting, but my one assurance here is that to stick with it is to break free—as the novel goes along, its pacing and enjoyability increases quickly.

Unfortunately, I’ve got to pick a little more before I praise. The character-loving soul inside me was not satisfied. Surprisingly, the panicky insurer was the most entertaining and engaging of the heroes; of the others, one seemed utterly unnecessary to the greater mobility of the plot, while the other manages to bring some good twists into the mix. (Full disclosure: I adore the Song of Ice and Fire saga. This should indicate the level of twist snobbery that is involved in that analysis.)

All this said, if the first bit of the book is pressed beyond, what remains is a well-paced, well-penned mystery that knows enough not to dwell on any one point too long before a new piece of the mystery arises and the plot as a whole tumbles forward. There is sufficient action for entertainment, a delightful course of thrill, and enough detail to leave you bobbing your head along in understanding when the reveals do happen.

Halting State is a book with its share of troubles, but in all, it is an entertaining, well-plodded mystery set in a uniquely built world. It’ll steal some hours away before you know it—you just have to stick it out.

In the Garden

In the journey of you

the suckled grape, the coaxing strum

where the god that breeds knelt

and offered fruit from the failing limbs

of moist magnitudes—

from the yoke of breaths

every clutch of earth inhales.

-

Even in the garden you would not bow

to time’s stumbling trance,

not for the taste of blood

nor temptation of design:

and it was on you the temples rose

liberated with a grasp

of the hair beneath the sky.

Book Review: Endurance

(Before I begin, I want to give the same warning I’d give to anyone reading its predecessor, Green: TRIGGER WARNING! this book heavily features child trafficking, implied prostitution, physical/emotional/psychological abuse, and some pretty general sexual tones overall.)

Endurance, by Jay Lake.

It’s tragic when you can sense a shift as such, but…these books are going in the wrong direction. I don’t mean story-wise; I’m generally not one to criticize as such. Yet you know what they say about movie sequels? Apply here.

Endurance is the sequel to Green—an unusual book in and of itself in the mainstream fantasy genre for its frank sexual (alright, very and uniquely sexual), furry and BDSM tones—continuing the journey of the titular Green as she struggles to find a place for herself in a world that is just…really unkind to her. In so doing, however, Endurance tragically fails to evolve from its predecessor—it’s marred by similar issues, and fails on its own merits to materialize into anything truly hard-hitting.

But let me be frank: it’s good, and it’s quick, it’s just not great. If you want something to read on a goodly-lengthed airplane flight? This one is your book. The action scenes are well-written and entertaining, and there are still characters (alright, in my case, one character) that will amuse, if also baffle.

We get more of the gods in this book than we got even in the last one—it deals with their machinations (hi, Green!) and desires; along with a very steady dichotomy of male vs. female. Some rather chauvinistic baddies want to turn the world to a male god-dominated bachelor pad, while the female goddesses obviously want to preserve the status quo and keep people on their rightful, equal footing. Factor in restless Pardines, a city that can’t seem to get a sense of itself, and a new divine order for people to grow accustomed to, and my oh my, the troubles do abound.

People in the worlds of Jay Lake—well, they’re not very nice.

But I’m not about to be in describing that world just now either, so, deep breaths everyone. For one thing, while I’m no prude, the sexual quality in these books continues to be just…odd. It’s downright implausible in some of the situations in which it comes up, unnecessary to the extent it goes for (I.E. we’re not advancing plot here), and the language used in its description—well, I’ll give Lake creativity points for the last, at least. Also: Green is horny. All the time. Which is just as well, because apparently so are the female gods she follows. Oh dears.

The delivery of the novel itself is also oddly rendered. Several before me have poked at the POV—and I must lend my voice to that crowd. I can understand reflection. It lends things to a novel—pointed, powerful insights into the character we’re following. Not so, in Green’s case. She bemoans, certainly, but as she herself is not a terribly caring or overly thoughtful character (she’s an impulsive ninja, alright?), her “insights” achieve little more than to tell me what I just read of her actions were obviously poor choices on her part. This does little more than to UNDERCUT the moment of those failures, essentially being someone standing just off to the side of the screen saying: “Well, that was dumb of me. Oh my.” It breaks our involvement IN the action, IN the moment, IN the decision.

What’s more: the whole pregnancy detail. It should be a hell of a game changer. Yet right up until the very end, it only proves a conflicting issue at the most convenient moments. Green is always presented as far above and beyond your average woman—and she’d have to be, because if a real woman did half the things she does quite freely here (flipping over rooftops, knife fights, and leaping through windows, to name a few), there is no way her baby would survive to the happy day. She talks ABOUT the pregnancy as an issue a lot—but practically speaking, it rarely is one. She’s still fighting her way to glory right up until the end.

While Endurance has risen above the pacing issue that Green suffered from—no sudden, three book splits in this puppy—and solid attempts are made to craft some intricate plotting, most of the twists and turns end up being pretty predictable, and pretty much all cured by another high octane fist fight or two. Why are people doing the things they’re doing? Well, that’s still not gone into depth enough. People’s motives, even when explained, are not the most intricate or necessarily sensible or reasonable in and of themselves (and there’s always the: “We sensed these two were assassins, so we sexed the urge to kill out of them!” moment…urgh), and while many of the actions and reactions are all coming back on things that Green has done or caused, given her own impulsive nature, this whole series of events can seem somewhere…frustrating.

It’s always proper to end on a high note, though, and I’ll let Lake have that. What this book does have is spirituality, alongside its action. The spiritual aspect—the creation, destruction, and inherent questions that come along with the divine—is in full bloom here, and now more than ever being used to showcase gender issues. Endurance continues THAT tradition that Green set, and while it does not go into quite the expanded depth on that front that I would like form a sequel, it continues to present a rather in-depth world, which I always appreciate.

With Green, I could say I adored the early bits and came to face palm, a lot, over the later bits. With Endurance, the path is set from the very beginning, and it’s consistent all the way through—but the journey remains an entertaining, but not an overly engaging or substantial one.