Poetry Readings, Interviews, and an Award to Boot!

If only one got a nice, comfy couch every time they had to read poetry...

If only one got a nice, comfy couch every time they had to read poetry…

Time to mark some calendars.

I spoke last week about a rather serious life update, and a huge professional milestone for me. Now I’m prepared to attach some numbers to the featureless and let you all in a little deeper into the fold of the Dyer-Ives award.

The Dyer-Ives Foundation was begun 50 years ago, an organization dedicated to building grassroots and neighborhood functions in the community. For the past 46 years, they have also run the Kent County Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition–an event divided into three different categories, for the young, the undergraduate and the young at heart.

My poem, Grand River, won first place in the adult side of the competition, and as a result I will be giving a public reading of it, alongside fellow poets, at the Grand Rapids Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA) on JUNE 7, 2014, from 1 – 2:30 p.m. Dearest readers, are any of you from Michigan? If so, you’re more than welcome to attend–the event is free of charge and everyone is invited!

Additionally, my work is going to be published in a chapbook. Print copies of the chapbook will be made available at the reading (and attendees can get us to sign shiny copies there as well), but they’ll also be made available online in late May, if you feel like waiting.

This is the point where I say: but wait, there’s more!

This little poet is also going to be on the radio. If you can stand my voice for even more time, there’s going to be an interview with me on 88.1 WYCE at an undisclosed future date–once I’ve made those necessary arrangements, I promise you’ll all be the first to know.

What all this boils down to is that the month to come is going to be quite a ride; I’m excited, I’m nervous, but most of all I’m looking forward to what all of this means. For me, this is my first (true) step into the professional side of the poetic sphere. Published author was already under my belt, but now I can add published poet to the plaque alongside it–and that’s enough to swell this creative heart of mine with bliss.

Never forget where we came from, and the dream of what once was.

There are friends I could (and shall) thank for all this–friends that helped me come to this. My family has never ceased in its support. What’s more, I can extend personal gratitude to what once was One Stop Poetry, and the dream it had embodied; I learned a lot there, and I’d like to think it helped me hone my trade. Of course, one also has to extend a hand to Michigan itself–my beautiful, if troubled state, which has always been a source of inspiration.

But don’t think that any of the rest of you have been forgotten. If blogging weren’t worthwhile, if I didn’t enjoy sharing with you all, and hearing from you, and doing these silly things I do–I wouldn’t do them. You have all helped me grow, and I hope you shall continue to do so in the future.

Onward!

Book Review: The Great Game

So, do you…steampunk? Honestly, it’s the best (and only) way to introduce The Great Game because it is its dominant trait. Think Cheryl Priest—except whereas her works take place in Civil War era America, this one transports readers to Victorian Europe, a land where everything runs like clockwork. Or, on clockwork.

No, really. This may be alternate history, but the alternate should be in all caps—the British Empire is ruled by aliens, and not just any aliens, but alien lizards. Everyone who said the lizardman phenomenon was coming for us was apparently right—they just had the time frame off a little bit. Oh, and France? Automatons, the lot of them. Amazing, what a little steam and clockwork can pull off.

Suffice to say, the setting is pretty jarring. We’re not in Kansas anymore and all that; it does take some getting used to. Fortunately, historical and literary characters are there to help guide us through the adjustment period—though not in any real way we would be familiar with them for. Sherlock Holmes? Real and retired. Harry Houdini? Agent on the move. Yes, there’s more than one joke in there somewhere.

Would that any of these characters had the depth to bring extra life to a very colorful world, but unfortunately, no one’s really kept up with for too long. The world and the mysteries themselves are our real characters, and they drive this book forward, through a rather chaotic smattering of events.

Which brings us, in a rather roundabout way, to the plot. Agents of “the Bureau” are on the case of several murders, through shadowy intrigues and some rather colorful expositions. Despite that, erm, rather bland unveiling, though, I will note the plot’s problem is that, while it manages to stay pretty vibrant throughout, it can get a bit…shall we say…chaotic? The fact that the characters are not really at the heart of things certainly doesn’t help.

It is fun. You will be amused. But if you’re looking for more than that, you may be in for some disappointment. With all this attention dedicated to the mystery and the plot, over character, one would think the climax and resolution would be especially key, the answers to all the great exploratory questions—and yet, there is little resolution. It’s a book that can be raced through, leaving little along the way; it will entertain while it’s read, but there’s not much that will cling to the shadows of the mind in its aftermath.

Just don’t let the lizards know I told you.

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.