Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: NEVERNIGHT by Jay Kristoff



Blurb:

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, a sixteen year old Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic ― the Red Church. Treachery and trials await her with the Church’s halls, and to fail is to die. But if she survives to initiation, Mia will be inducted among the chosen of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the only thing she desires.

Revenge.

~Amazon

Review:

I utterly adored Jay Kristoff's Nevernight. Could not put it down. It usually takes me a couple months to complete a novel, but I read the last half of Nevernight while on a vacay last week. It didn't even occur to me that there was a television in the room and that I could watch it. That's how captivated I was by Mia and Tric and the rest of this bloody crew.

Some books are a challenge because I can tell the author thinks in a way that I can barely relate to. This book, the characters, the action, the balance between brutality and sentimentality, the humor, the grit -- I just got. It all resonated with my personality, my likes and dislikes in fiction. Will Nevernight resonate with you?

Thoughts on Influences:

Whether or not Kristoff is/was a gamer or is merely familiar with today's most popular video games (or neither of these), I did pick up on similarities with Skyrim and some other potential influences. Rather than detract from the enjoyment of the tale, I think fans of those games will be thrilled, mainly because they will easily relate to the world and its factions and characters.

Influences also draw heavily from Ancient Rome and Renaissance Venice. As a history buff, this is where I was slightly turned off. Not because, as a history buff, these cultures and time periods are distasteful to me, but because the similarities were so strong that the fantasy element at times grew thin, such as the city of gondolas that celebrates with masquerade balls; Senates and a Republic that are about to suffer a dictatorship under a Caesar-like ruler.

However, it's likely due to my own personal taste that fantasy worlds are somewhat less transparent in the expression of the influences behind their creation.

But make no mistake, these influences do not detract from the tale. Nevernight is a rip-roaring ride, from page 1 to the final paragraph. The momentum is non-stop, like a dagger in flight.

Unique Surprise:

Footnotes! I had never read a novel that featured footnotes. Again, being a history buff who loves the tidbits found at the bottoms of pages, I was instantly charmed when I discovered footnotes lurking like little shadows below the main text.

Don't cheat yourself and skip over these footnotes. I do believe the clues to Nevernight's ending lie in these little asides. At least, I'm pretty sure I've puzzled it out. See if you can.

Best of all, the personality of the narrator telling Mia's story shines in the footnotes, providing glimpses of a sarcastic, jaded sense of humor until the reader must ask, "Who IS this masked narrator?" If you think you've guessed, chances are you're wrong. At least I was. I think. Maybe. There's still room for a twist that will make me right. If I am indeed wrong, then my second choice for the narrator is ... no spoilers.

Conclusion:

Of course, it's how an author uses words themselves that make me fall in love, every time. And much of Nevernight is delightful poetry, alongside the swashbuckling pace. So I will be looking for other works by Kristoff while I desperately await the next installment in the Nevernight series.

I won't soon be forgetting Mia and the rest, so I'm giving Nevernight five magic wands.

5 of 5
Find Nevernight HERE.
Follow Jay Kristoff on his official site, Twitter, and Facebook.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Undreamed Shores...

I've found a new motto.



Of course Will was the one to pen it. Though I've never read "The Winter's Tale." Shame on me. Still, this phrase touches on explorations through words, through travel, both of which top my list of to-dos.

Insatiable curiosity.

Have you a motto? Care to share it?


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Progress Diary, Endgame Jitters

PROJECT: Fury of the Falcon, Book 5, Falcons Saga

Entry #17

(yes, I've skipped a few entries on my blog. The rest are posted on LegendFire, due to spoilers)

"Spin" by JasonTN @DeviantART
Have passed the 100k mark. The Endgame looms. Excited, but dreading the long, complex chess game ahead. The game begins this week with Chapter 30. After daring plans and betrayals, the pieces are in place. Now just to make things happen. Things are about to get bloody, people. All those deaths mentioned in Entry #1? Yeah, here they come...



I'm already sobbing my eyes out. Good sign? Well, I do have to see to type. 

*reaches for box of tissue*

(What does this mean in terms of completing the novel? With the holidays looming, writing will decrease a fraction until after the New Year. So give me several more months to wrap this up. Then the edits...)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"The Witch of Mistletoe Lane," A Halloween Story

In 2011, Brian Fatah Steele of Dark Red Press asked me if I wanted to contribute a story to a Halloween anthology he was putting together. Brian is a horror writer extraordinaire, so the prospect was intimidating. Luckily, he said my story didn't have to be horror, so I agreed.

The result was "The Witch of Mistletoe Lane," a novelette featuring small town boys who believe they have discovered a real witch living down the street. Their experiences, minus the witch, draw heavily from my own childhood. Because of that, this story was a blast to write.

The anthology, Past the Patch, is always available for free download at SmashwordsScribd, and a host of other sites. OR just read it all here.



Part 1 of 5


Every autumn, the clatter of leaves somersaulting along sidewalks reminds me of the October I met the witch. The small southern town of Saint Claire didn’t have a lot to boast about but the worst football team in the county, the annual watermelon festival, and Ag shows that brought the fattest pigs and beefiest steers to Main Street, where they showed their appreciation by crapping in front of the cafe, the antique store, and the True Value hardware that still sold hard candy from glass jars. Unbeknownst to the folks outside our insular world, Saint Claire had its very own witch, too. Mothers all over town scared the devil out of us kids every time they warned us to steer clear of the rickety old house that lurked on Mistletoe Lane. My own mother joined the hype. “Colton, you leave that place alone. I see you anywhere near it, I’ll bust your hide.” To which I inevitably replied, “But why, Mama?” She’d only respond with the look that meant, “You better do as I say.”

The first time I found myself outside the witch’s gate was a complete accident. Jimmy Harden and I rode our bikes to the cow pond on his grandpa’s place, hoping the fish liked the taste of the grubs on our hooks. They did, as it turned out, so we kept tossing our lines in till almost dusk. Realizing the time, we tied our stringers full of half-grown bass to our handlebars and hustled back to town. We were in such a hurry to avoid a whooping for being late to dinner that we turned one street too soon. Jimmy hit his brakes; his back tire left a black streak that must’ve been a mile long before he came to a stop. Pulling up alongside him, I stared in horror at the crumbling gingerbread house. I’d only ever seen it from the corner, in passing, as Mom hit the gas to get through the intersection fast as she could. Now that I was getting a good look at the place, I decided she’d been right all those years. It was a wonder anyone could live there at all. The house was scary as hell, staring back at us in the manner of Hamlet’s skull, pondering our demise. Weeds grew thick as jungles inside the leaning picket fence, and a pair of arborvitaes hid the front fa├žade like hands thrown over a face too hideous to endure. White paint scrolled from the eaves, the wood underneath dry and gray. A couple of upper story windows boasted holes big enough for birds to fly through. The whole place reeked of cat piss. 

To me, the creepiest part were the tattered Halloween decorations left over from years past. Though it was June, plastic jack o’ lanterns lined the walk to the front door. They used to be orange, but had faded in the southern sun to a whitish yellow, just like skulls of beheaded children. One of those ridiculous “crashed witches” was nailed to a giant catalpa tree near the rusted mailbox. Her broom had lost its broomcorn and was just a plastic stick that made a likely perch for blue jays. On the front gate hung a weather-beaten sign that read “The Witch Is In.”

Scared the witch might be watching, I backhanded Jimmy in the shoulder. “Let’s get outta here.”

Jimmy grinned in a way that said he was contemplating mischief and swept up a chunk of gravel from the ditch.

“No, man!” I cried.

He chunked it with his Little League arm; it sailed right through a window. Clink, clink, crash, went the glass.

We hightailed it for home, scared out of our minds and exhilarated at the same time, but Jimmy soon came to regret chucking that rock. The next week, his dad fell off a roof and broke his spine. He’s been in a wheelchair ever since. Then Jimmy came down with appendicitis that nearly killed him before his mom got him to the hospital. We never openly blamed these things on the witch or told our parents about the rock he threw, but he and I knew. That was when we were nine or ten.

The autumn I met the witch in person, I was thirteen, suffering through the tortures of Junior High and wet dreams about Elizabeth McDuffy, the Freshman cheerleader with green eyes and hair the color of autumn itself. It was Saturday afternoon, and the week before Halloween. A handful of jocks led by our star running back, Trev Reynolds, were conducting the yearly cat round-up. It was an unspoken tradition. Though all of us Saint Claireans knew about it, we openly denied its existence. For the whole month of October, the town’s cat lovers locked their pets indoors to protect them from the annual purging. It was the vagrant alley cats and their unwanted litters that satisfied the grotesque human desire for destruction. Me and Jimmy, along with Adam Laughton and Tyrone Banks, weren’t invited to take part. The secret ritual belonged to the cool older guys, not green, virginal junior high boys. We could only stand back and watch Randy Tillman’s black pickup truck painted with orange flames roar past just like a dragon. Piled into the cab and in the bed, our heroes hollered and cussed and displayed their trophy: another plastic grocery sack writhing with an irate cat.

All we had was our bikes, bigger and better ones now that we were older, but we were still unable to catch up. At Jimmy’s urging, we tried. We pumped those peddles as fast as our scrawny legs could go. Our war cries sounded less inspiring, because our voices were cracking and we kept choking on the dust kicked up in the pickup’s blazing wake.

Out on county line road, Tyrone hit a pothole and flipped over his handlebars. We stopped to shovel him off the asphalt. “Ah, hell, Ty,” Adam complained. “We’ll never catch ‘em now.”

Tyrone’s hands were bleeding, so was a gash on his leg where he’d caught the jagged edge of a peddle. He groaned and cussed, and Jimmy said, “Shut up. I hear something.”

We listened. Rrreeeeow! A cat in distress!

Up ahead, the road crossed Tallulah Creek. A dirt trail, no more than twin lines of red earth veered off the main road and plunged out of sight. We tossed our bikes into the ditch and followed it to the creek bank. Tyrone hobbled fast as he could, dragging his bleeding left leg. Randy’s black truck crouched at the end of the trail, silent and sleeping. The jocks clustered under the bridge, struggling with a manic beast. Rrreeeeow! it shrieked. The bridge amplified the protest. I imagined a creature the size of a panther, but when the hunters tugged the rope and hoisted up the noose, all I saw was an ordinary alley cat, orange and white. Her teets were heavy. She had babies somewhere. Jimmy, Adam, and Tyrone cheered with the big guys as the cat kicked and scratched at the noose around her neck. I watched, mesmerized and feeling like I might throw up. The cat was so scared it dropped feces, and the big guys jumped back, squalling and cussing as if the cat had done it as a purposeful act of revenge.

It was then that a couple of the jocks noticed us and chased us down. Trev Reynolds grabbed me and Tyrone by the scruff. Joey Osborn, the coach’s son, caught Adam by the shirttails. Jimmy stopped halfway up the trail and measured his options. Ditch his friends or help them out. He was a beefy kid by now, but nowhere near big enough to stand up to these guys. He crossed his arms. “We just wanna see!”

The rest of the brave and bold hunters saw that they’d been caught, and some began to panic. “Ah, man, they’re gonna tell Coach!”

“He’ll kick us off the team,” said Randy Tillman.

Joey Osborn said, “You dumbnut, we are the team! What’s he gonna do?”

“My dad’s the Baptist preacher! He’s gonna kill me.”

“They won’t tell,” said Trev Reynolds. He had eyes like a snake, real cool and mean. They looked straight at me, then at Tyrone and Adam. “We’ll beat the shit out of ‘em if they do, and they know it.” He jabbed a finger at Jimmy, lingering a safe distance up the hill. “You! Get down here.”

Jimmy craned his neck, likely hoping there was some kind of help coming along the road. No luck. He did as he was told and crept back down under the bridge. Trev Reynolds grabbed him by the shirtfront. “We’ll let you see, but you gotta get us another cat. All of ya! Go find us another cat and bring it to the dumpster behind Al’s shop. We’ll meet you there. If you don’t show, we’ll find you and hang y’all up instead.”

Over the crowd of taller heads, I saw the cat. Her eyes were popping and her tongue stuck out of her mouth. She no longer struggled. Three others hung from rafters under the bridge.

Reynolds slapped me upside the head. “You gonna cry? Go with your girlfriends, Colton Brisby. Yeah, I know who you are, and I know where you live, too. Go get that cat.”

#

“Ah, shit, we’re dead. We’re dead!” groaned Adam. We walked our bikes back to town, our enthusiasm as withered as nuts dunked in ice-cold water. “We shouldn’ta listened to you, Jimmy.”

“Did they mean one cat for all of us, or a cat apiece?” asked Tyrone.

“Ah, shut up, man, we’re friggin’ dead.”

“Quit whining!” Jimmy bellowed, and Adam shut his trap. “We’ll stop by my place and pick up an arsenal and catch as many cats as we can. Then they’ll let us be.”

Our arsenal consisted of the pair of slingshots that Jimmy and I used to shoot frogs at his grandpa’s pond. He held mine out, but I shook my head. I didn’t want to shoot a cat, not after watching that alley cat strangle to death. But what’s a guy to do when his friends look at him like, “What the hell’s gotten into you?”

“Hey, I want it!” Tyrone grabbed the slingshot and practiced aiming with it. The rest of us loaded our pockets with bright steel shot and took off before Jimmy’s mom could ask what trouble we were up to.

The first cat we found was slinking around behind the police station. “We can’t shoot that one,” I said. “What if Wade comes out and sees us. He might arrest us for cruelty to animals or concealed firearms.” Saint Claire was so small we only had three town cops; Wade was the police chief.

Jimmy shook his slingshot in my face. “Not very concealed, is it, dimwit.”

“Well, for brandishing weapons inside city limits, then.”

Jimmy rolled his eyes. “How ‘bout jaywalking? We been jaywalking all over town, stupid. Everybody does it, and nobody gives a shit.”

“Jaywalking don’t hurt nothing, dumbass!”

Adam, at least, saw my reasoning. He broke up the argument before fists started flying. “C’mon, let’s find a different cat.”

We searched and searched, and the longer we searched the more Adam panicked. By late afternoon he started looking downright sick, trailing along behind, holding his stomach. We’d raked the town and finally found ourselves on the northern edge. Past Seventh Street, there wasn’t much but cow pasture.

Tyrone stopped cold and cried, “There’s one!” A giant beast slunk through the tall grass in the roadside ditch, on the prowl. He turned those malevolent yellow eyes on us and darted off. “It’s a black one, too! Get it!” Tyrone wasted three good shots trying to hit him on the run. Jimmy took slow, careful aim, leading the cat by a few inches. Then the stupid animal paused in the intersection to glance back at us. Jimmy let fly. The steel ball lit a bright streak across the breeze. The cat yowled, spun, looking for the source of its pain, then took off like a bullet. We loosed our war cries and gave chase, leaping fences and flowerbeds and scrambling over cars parked in driveways. For a while we thought we lost it, but it darted out from under Mrs. Stein’s garden shed, a dozen yards away. We were nearly on top of that poor cat, when it turned onto a dilapidated street. I stopped so fast that I nearly ran out of my Converse shoes. Mistletoe Lane. And that black cat was limp-running straight for the witch’s house. The guys seemed to realize all at once, and stopped in the middle of the street. Panting and sweating, we stared at a shadow moving across a window. The front gate was propped open and the ragged ol’ sign said, “The Witch Is In.” The cat hobbled through, leaving a bloody paw print every time it stepped with its back foot.

A strangled, gurgling scream came from the house. The screen door banged shut and a woman ran up the sidewalk between the faded jack o’ lanterns. Except for the green skin, she might’ve been the twin of the Wicked Witch of the West. Long chin, hook nose, bony fingers, everything. Her black hair was a wild mess of frizz, and her eyes bugged out of her face, full of madness. She scooped up the wounded cat and cradled it like a baby, cooing and whimpering in a strange, ungodly language.

The four of us backed away slowly, but she looked right at us, and her free hand flicked and snapped out some symbols. Jimmy wailed, “No! Nooooo!” He turned and fled. The rest of us weren’t two paces behind.


(continued in Part 2, HERE)

"The Witch of Mistletoe Lane" copyright 2011 by Court Ellyn. No part of the story may be reproduced without written permission of the author.

Image credits -

background: FantasyStock
texture: GrandeOmbre-stock
fog brushes: BBs-Brushes


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

When Words Fail...

Project: Fury of the Falcon



That moment when you realize you should have written down the amazing, natural-sounding, perfectly-flowing dialog you thought of weeks ago. Because now you have arrived at that very scene, fingers poised over the keys, and you have no idea what to write.

I know better than that! I know to scramble for the nearest scrap of paper and sketch out at least some of the dialog that surfaced in that brief moment of clarity and genius.

Now it will likely take me the rest of the week to piece together something that sounds crappy and stilted in the end. Ugh. Writers, commiserate! Readers, I really need some comfort food.


Something like this will do...


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Progress Diary: Character Overhaul


Project: Fury of the Falcon (Falcons Saga, Book 5)


Character expansion = extricating a neglected, flat, blurry character from the obscure corner where they are lurking and bringing them into the spotlight, giving them new roles, bigger page-time, deeper significance.

The alternative is murdering them, according to William Faulkner (and other writers who know what they're doing).



So I decided to save a darling from gruesome, bloody deletion and overhaul him instead:

(MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW)

Those who have read Sons of the Falcon know who Kethlyn and Carah are. Turns out that their father had a fling in his youth (alluded to in Book 1) which resulted in these siblings having an older brother whom they didn't know about. In the ancient, deplorable original draft of the story, this older brother serves little purpose. He comes along in time to cause some scandal and heartache, then manages to save the life of the younger brother who despises him, then he happily fades back into his old life.

Well, many, many years ago, my mother said, "I thought he would play a bigger part." I could tell she was disappointed. So, at last, I have heeded her advice and expanded the role of this illegitimate brother. I didn't expect to have so much fun with the process. There has been brawling and verbal battling so far. Lots of fun tension. And it turns out this older brother (who has no filter, no understanding of the term "politically correct" when speaking to a noble) is now key in helping Kethlyn get over himself and face up to his treachery in a more honorable, mature fashion. This illegitimate brother will now actually have a motive for saving his younger brother's life, which can only be a good thing.

However! I haven't yet decided if this illegitimate brother is on the list of characters to knock off. (He just overheard me say that and is giving me a startled sort of look. I smirk back. The scissors hover, and the thread is thin.) I guess I'll be as surprised as he is, when the time comes.

(END SPOILERS)

Point is, readers are generally right when they voice their expectations and disappointments. Good to heed them.

* * * Would love to hear about the characters or plots that have disappointed you, and how you would rewrite them, if you could.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Planar Scars, Winged Outcasts, and Mad Scientists

Okay, to me, the elements in that title sound like a delectable cocktail. Am I wrong? Pff, of course not.

Over the last couple of years I've determined to broaden my reading scope. I had gotten into a rut of reading and (re-reading) about three authors, and so I started collecting books and collections by authors whose names I knew but whose work I hadn't taken a chance on.

I'm one of those people who is afraid of "new" and "spontaneous" and "change." So it felt like a risk peeking into some of these covers and seeing what words lay inside. Like peeking down someone's shirt. What the heck is in there, and do I really want to know?

Some time ago, my writer-friend Brian Fatah Steele (who has had so much influence in pushing me in new directions) suggested China Mieville's novels, so last time I was perusing the book store shelves (yes, I still prefer actual physical bookstores) I picked up the only Mieville novel I could find (sad, but selection is dwindling on store shelves), and it happened to be The Scar.



Reading this novel was like wallowing in stellar energy comprised of colliding words. Gah! Never mind that the story, that the world-building, that the characters were utterly magnetic, grotesque, gritty, and unique. I'm a sucker for a beautifully turned phrase. I will sit paralyzed by a startling combination of words for minutes at a time.

Because there is so much to savor in The Scar, it took me a long time to finish reading it, then I sacrificed everything else that needed doing to finish the last third in about three days. Point is, I am utterly in love with Mieville's writing. The dude's a poet, and the words themselves are as delectable as the world and characters they describe. They are a pleasure in and of themselves. (Isn't it a shame that this isn't usually the case?)

So now I've moved on to Perdido Street Station. Yes, I'm reading the "series" out of order, which I hate to do, but the novels seem to be standing well on their own.

How does a single brain come up with all this stuff? It feels like walking into a banquet hall and being surrounded by unrecognizable and tantalizing dishes, and where does one begin? At the same time, that description doesn't fit at all, because most of Mieville's inventions belong in slimy gutters and underworld sewers, but these are your dinner guests. Steel your stomach, grit your teeth, and wade in. Beauty in the ugliness, ugliness in the beauty, and all that, but often things are just downright freakish. 

Refreshing. Fabulous.