Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Monthly Reading List: December

(Not Pictured: Chronicles of Steele: Raven)

 
 
 
 
Raging Heat (Nikki Heat #6) Richard Castle
 
Favorite part of the Richard Castle Novels? Imagining Nathan Fillion reading them.
This is the latest novel in the Nikki Heat series, and (for fans of the show) a nice recap of Season 6. Complete with unidentified bodies falling from the sky, evidence pointing to a prominent political figure as the perpetrator of the crime, and so much more. It was a lovely time, and an excellent adventure, and I look forward to the next one!

 
 
 
Rocking Chairs and Wrinkles, Rose Withering
 
I found this particular novel to be a dramatic and enthralling tale completely missed because the author did not take the time to craft the story.
Two people, completely unrelated, have several chance encounters, and discover a connection over personal tragedies with similar details. That much was certain. Both had lost their spouses, and the guy knew that his mother had undergone the loss of her family—so when a woman surfaces with details from her past that match his, the lines start falling into place. Secrets come out, and a mystery is solved, and reconciliation happens.
The trouble I had with this book was the prodigious amount of rote dialogue. As with Thornburg's Daughter, I was forced to work my imagination overtime to try and follow the events of the scene before they faded to a "blank screen with audio", as scenes with dialogue alone are wont to do. Small shifts are all right in the course of a conversation, for variety's sake; I understand the aversion to using "he said"/"she said" all the time. But when a scene begins with just dialogue and does not include any kind of character movement (not even the normal posture shifts that occur when someone is speaking) till a character is ready to leave the scene, it's a problem. What made it especially difficult was the fact that Rose Withering puts such heart and soul into her dialogue, and this story is definitely one that needs to be told—but a heart and soul without a body is just a wandering ghost. 

 
 
Chronicles of Steele: Raven, Pauline Creeden
 
Wonderful story from start to finish! I will admit that I technically only read half this book, having already burned through the first two "episodes" of the four and thirsted for more. Creeden did not disappoint! The action just keeps right on going, and these mysteries that seemed so much like subplots at first abruptly take on an identity most sinister and dire as the connections are revealed. Still throughout, Creeden treats her characters carefully, keeping them distinct and colorful so that every situation has the proper response and  the very mention of their names brings them to life as vividly as real people, or even actors in a film. For anyone looking for an excellent steampunk adventure, check this one out for sure!

Beauty Sleep, Cameron Dokey
 
Gorgeous and magical.
Have I said enough how much I enjoy the retellings of Cameron Dokey? Because I love them, every part of them. 
This one was Sleeping Beauty—and after reading Suzanne Weyn's "Water Song" which left much to be desired, and watching the movie "Maleficent" which left me confused, I was understandably apprehensive.
I should not have worried.
First, Cameron starts with a world where magic is acknowledged and exists, but is feared and relegated to isolated areas where "nobody goes." Then she fashions the Princess Aurore as a headstrong girl cooped up inside the castle (instead of sent far away) under the watchful eye of her father (instead of shunned by him) who only wants to be outside and free. Clever Cameron deftly weaves a tale that at first seems "all wrong," but then she manages to pull in the details we know so well at just the right moment to turn her thrilling story into the fairy tale it was always meant to be. I loved the characters and I loved the way this story worked!

Once (Before Midnight, Golden, Wild Orchid) Cameron Dokey
 
So this happened to be the "Month of Cameron Dokey." Which I did not mind in the least!
 
"Once" is a compilation of three of Dokey's novels, retelling the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Mulan.
 
Before Midnight: Obviously this is Cinderella—but get this: her nickname, "Cendrillon", is not bestowed disparagingly, but lovingly. Moreover, the stepmother is actually relatively kind to her; she and her two daughters treat Cendrillon like one of the staff only because they don't know that her father had a daughter. And she makes friends with an orphan boy whom she has grown up with, and a soldier from an enemy Royal court who ends up helping Cendrillon reunite with her father and bring about several other things that give the ball vastly more importance than just "love at first sight." It was a gorgeous tale, not unlike the film "Ever After" but simply more sweet and family-oriented.
 
Golden: Rapunzel's tale—but again, Dokey turns the "traditions" on their head. In this story, Rapunzel is cursed to be bald as an egg, because her mother was so obsessed with her own golden hair. She lives with the "sorceress" on a small farm in the country; it is the sorceress' own daughter, Rue, who is the golden-haired Princess locked in an enchanted tower as a punishment meted by a self-righteous wizard. The same story, but not quite, and vastly more entertaining when told from another perspective! 
 
Wild Orchid: Mulan did not interest me at first; I didn't much care for the rebel Disney princess who masqueraded as a boy to gain acceptance and hated wearing dresses until she was recognized as a hero at the end, at which point it was totally okay and nobody minded that she lied and nobody even knew the farce till the very end.
Dokey's version completely redeemed the tale for me. She gave her a father to focus her need for acceptance; she gave her a stepmother who again cared for her (I love the consistency of Dokey's loving stepmothers, defying the whole "evil" stereotype!) and friends who give her wise council and immediately recognize her when she shows up for the war draft! She even gives the Prince brothers, balancing his character and all but removing the "true love and social advancement package" that usually comes in a fairy tale. 
 
This writer's skill remains unmatched, and this reader would dearly love to get her hands on absolutely every book in this "Once Upon A Time Tales" series!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reader's Review: "The Starlight Proverbs (Tales of the Late Remian Empire #1)" by Darren E. Barber


Synopsis from Amazon:
"Cory came to where the moon and starlight shone upon the floor. Then he sat down upon the smooth stones, facing the window so that he would not block the streams of light. He looked up at the broken window, and he took a deep breath of the cool night air that poured down into the corridor. Then he placed the book on the floor in front of him, setting it within one of the larger patches of light. But when he did this, Cory saw something that caught his breath away.

"The book was still closed, and yet even now Cory could see a ghostly shimmer of silvery-blue light. It sparkled down the edges of all the pages, glinting as though the pages were made of ice that could burn, or live coals that could freeze.
"

He arrived at the manor with something tucked within his crib, a book with proverbs that only appear in the glint of starlight. That is all that Cory knows about his infancy before the false-uncle had him raised for a life of servitude at the workhouse. His attempt to escape turns into a dangerous descent into a labyrinthine lair, where a chillingly beautiful, self-adoring, and emotionally unhinged creature becomes his guide. Her cryptic songs hint at the journey that awaits him, where he must use the book of ancient proverbs to confront the sinister Lord Veront, help an enchanting Orchardess, and fight the forces of Goulmania to restore the rightful heir to the throne of the Remian Empire.
>>>>>>>>>

My Review:

I have wanted to read this book for a very long time, probably since summer, but maybe before that. The author, Darren Barber, was the brother of a very good friend of mine, who I had met briefly a few years before I even knew that he was the author of a fantasy novel! The trouble was, I had so many library books to get through, I wanted to save this book that we owned for a time when I didn't have any checkout deadlines to meet. Hence the month of December worked perfectly. 

First there was the cover. I could discern what looked like a mermaid—a particular weakness of mine. I love fantasy--but I love fantasy with mermaids even more. Promises of a tale of a hidden inheritance and an epic adventure involving a "child of destiny" thrilled me long before I cracked the cover.

So once I had established that the cover was good and the blurb sufficient, it was time to give the first chapter a try.
Within the pages of "The Starlight Proverbs" I found gorgeous imagery, poetic dialogue, and magnificent characters. The same carried all the way through the entire adventure: an oppressive villain who steals rich heirs for unscrupulous next-of-kin and forces them to labor in his workhouse till they die; a "haunted wood" purported to be the lair of a dragon that is really just a very deep cavern with a very deranged inhabitant. Oh, and it's not a mermaid; it's an emotionally unhinged eel-maid with a grudge against a dryad-like "orchardress" who had been fastened to a ship as a figurehead. Still quite an entertaining character!

Cory, the main character, is more the "hero" worth rooting for, neither consumed with his own importance, nor is he the only character capable of heroic deeds. (SPOILER ALERT: despite what you might think--and yes, I assumed this as well--Cory is not the "rightful heir"... it's someone else... but he helps them, anyhow!)
Barber lets various other characters shine in their own ways, and handles an ensemble cast with the ease and grace of a master. The challenges faced by the characters are not ones easily overcome by just one person--as so many authors are wont to do--but requires the unification and cooperation of many others to accomplish the deed. It had me holding my breath there at the very end, and my imagination was keenly enthralled from the first page to the last!

This book had me grinning the whole way through, and I would love to revisit this "world" again and again! The story is not over, and there is still more of the lush world to discover, more characters to meet. This is a very promising beginning to a great fantasy series!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box, Vol. 2! List #17

 
 
Suggested By: Leslie Conzatti
 
 
The List:
Name: Ecrivaine
Place: Ring of Brodgar
Time: September
Object: a portal into another world
 
The Result:

Faith clung tightly to the straps of the harness as she watched the circle of monoliths pass underneath her feet. Courtland circled and dipped lower.
"Bend your knees!" He warned as the ground rose to meet them.
Faith did her best to relax her muscles, but the toe of her sneaker caught a stray tussock and when he pulled up she went tumbling over the grass.
Her momentum caused him to stumble too, and the large, dark dragon wings spread reflexively. Still, his foremost concern was not for himself.
"I'm sorry," he called to her, folding his wings against his back, "are you all right?"
 
Faith got her footing and smoothed out her clothing. "I'm fine," she said, raising her eyes and squinting around at the gigantic circle of stones. "Where are we?"
Courtland sighed and sat on a stone that the weather had eroded to a mere stub of itself. "This, Miss Dunmore, is the Ring of Brodgar, the place where you, as the Ecrivaine, need to summon the Dragon for the last time and send it back to its world."
Faith felt the cold hand of doubt creeping over her insides once again, freezing her heart and twisting her stomach into knots. "How am I supposed to do that?" All these people talking like she was some kind of special entity, while she was still trying to figure out if the dragon appearing outside the shed was a fluke or not.
Courtland shrugged. "The same way you did it in France, I guess. Only this time you have the Ring," he pointed to her hand, "and you're in the Ring." He gestured to the stones around them.
 
She still hesitated; all she did in France was read something she had already written. She had been so busy running since that day that there was nothing new in her notebook, and she was quite sure no other selection would quite fit the apparent need. 
The young Scot noticed her hesitation and reminded her soberly, "It's time, Faith."
 
Faith chewed on her lip as she opened her notebook and found the pen still clamped in the spiral where she had left it—oh, it felt like ages ago!
There was the page that had ended up summoning the dragon. Should she read it again? Faith absently picked up the pen. The little voice in her head that she called her "muse" kept insisting that she write something fresh, and repeat the words aloud as she wrote, for good measure.
She began: "Two youths sat among the stones that looked like the remains of some many-fingered giant reaching up from under the sod. As they pondered what to—" she stopped as a cloud bank suddenly blotted out the sun overhead. Just in that brief instant, Faith looked up and saw the man. He was tall, lean, fair-skinned with dark hair and dark clothing. She might have mistaken him for another tourist or municipal authority come to tell them off—if it weren't for the toad-like creatures crawling over the stones around him, and the red-headed figure being towed behind him.
 
Faith and Courtland leaped to their feet as the man snorted.
"Well, well, well! I must say you're braver than I thought, coming all the way here on your own!" He sneered at her. A few of the creatures tossed their unconscious burden at her feet.

"Darren!" The name tore from her lips. There wasn't any sign he was breathing. "What did you do to him?" She asked without taking her eyes off her onetime protector. "Is he dead?"
"No," the man answered, "I did what needed to be done. The question remains," he placed a long, thin—but incredibly strong—hand on her shoulder, "will you do what needs to be done?"
 
Faith instinctively pulled her arms closer around the notebook at her chest and closed her fist bearing the Ring. "What do you mean? Who are you?" Just the sound of the man's voice made her tremble with dread.
"Someone who has waited a long time to meet you, Ecrivaine." The man released her shoulders and held out a hand. "My name is Alexander VanTassel. Now, be a good girl and hand it over."
Faith took a step backwards. "Hand what over?" She squeaked.
Alexander scowled and snapped, "The Ring, you incorrigible child!"
 
In a flurry of flapping, Courtland planted himself between them, spreading his wings in front of Faith.
"I'll thank you not to touch her, VanTassel!" He challenged.
 
Alexander didn't back off, and his eyes glinted madly when he saw the dark wings. "Hello, what have we here? Is it a man or is it a dragon? You must be the one they call Dragon-Marked." He rubbed his bony hands in fiendish glee. "Oh, I have been searching for you, too!"
Courtland crossed his arms. "You think you're going to get what you want from me?"
Alexander smiled thinly. "No, I'm going to take something from you."
 
He merely beckoned with his hand, and the goblins that had surrounded them during the course of the conversation threw themselves at Faith and Courtland. Faith screamed and shoved their flabby bodies away, but Courtland wasn't so lucky. Alexander grabbed her arm and held on tight as the creatures flocked over the winged man and began beating him with clubs. To her everlasting horror, instead of bruising, Faith watched as the blows seemed to tear away Courtland's very skin, revealing the scales of a dragon underneath. Even his screams sounded more beast than human.
 
"Stop it!" She shrieked, pulling against the evil man's grasp. "You're hurting him! Stop! No!"
The goblins ceased their torture, but kept him pinned down by his wings. There was little human about him now, except his clothes and his feet.
"What is happening to him?" Faith shook so badly that she could barely get the words out.
"We're running out of time, Ecrivaine!" said Alexander. "He will soon be completely transformed into a dragon and there won't be any of his human form left."
She tore away from him as he held out his hand.
"Give me the Ring before it's too late!"
 
Faith crossed her arms and pinned her hands with her elbows. "No!" She cried. 
As the wind increased, Faith became aware of a soft, whispering voice saying "Right now! Right now!" But what did it mean? What did she need to do right now? Or was it saying "write now"?
Alexander shook his head. "You give me no choice," he said, and signaled his goblins.
 
One of them sitting on his right wing immediately hopped up and yanked on the top, thickest part of the wing—while the rest of Courtland remained pinned. The sharp crack of splitting bone rent the air, and Courtland screamed in such agony that Faith burst into tears.
"Stop! Stop it!" She sobbed. "Just leave him alone!" When would terrible things stop happening to the people around her? All she wanted was a normal life!
 
The voice somewhere beside her still whispered, "Write it now! Write it now!"
 
Alexander strode toward her, his hand raised like he was ready to signal them to break the other wing. "Do I have your attention now, Ecrivaine? Your story ends here. Without your winged companion, there is nowhere for you to go that I cannot follow. You have no escape."
 
Faith gripped her locket, as she always did for comfort—and the voice faded slightly. She brought it up, and it fell open as it had in Cordelia's house. The voice was louder now, and it seemed that as she stared at the cameo of the "first Ecrivaine" that the cameo turned her head and stared back! Perhaps the legend was real! Recalling Cordelia reminded Faith of the time she wrote something and it came true. She finally lifted her face to look up at Alexander.
"You're wrong," she said. "My story has only just begun."

Faith took up her pen and wrote: "There was once a young girl and a tall, dark man who stood facing each other within a ring of stones on a Northern island. The girl's name was Faith, and the man's name was Alexander. The ring in which they stood was a portal to another world, a world of magic and all manner of magnificent creatures, protected by Unicorns and governed by the dragons. The largest, noblest, and most magnificent of them all was the Midnight Dragon. On this night, as the autumn wind blew, he came to the ring of stones, he answered the call of the Ecrivaine and the veil between the worlds lifted."

As she finished saying the last words, a gust of wind caught her hair, and a dark cloud filled the sky above her—but as it gathered on the ground, Faith saw that it was not a cloud, but an enormous dragon with dark skin flecked with gold, like stars against a night sky.
The narrow head dipped toward her, and she felt the warm breath from its nostrils around her. Its tail ran the circumference of the circle, keeping Alexander and his goblins at bay.
"I have come, Ecrivaine," rumbled the Midnight Dragon. "I am yours to command. Are you prepared to unlock the Door?"
Faith was so astonished that she put out a tentative hand. The dragon waited patiently as she assured herself that the glossy creature looming over her was indeed real. "Yes," she gasped. 
The dragon swung its head toward the wide stone at the center of the ring, and placed its nose against the surface. Faith reached toward it with the hand bearing the ring. The very air came alive with magic, and the stone began to glow.

The instant before she touched it, Alexander and several dozen goblins vaulted the thick tail and advanced on her. "Not so fast!" He cried, dragging Darren along with him—awake now, but still invisibly bound. "If you do not give me the ring, Ecrivaine, I will kill your friends." He pointed toward Courtland, who was still covered in goblins. When Faith looked back at Darren, Alexander held a knife to his throat.
In desperation, Faith whirled on the newcomer. "Dragon, help me!" She cried.
The Dragon lifted its head imperiously. "I cannot intervene in the affairs of your world; the first Ecrivaine tried to compel me to end a war, but I did not. It is a choice you must make."
Through the grunting goblins and the swirl of magic, Faith could hear the cameo of Magdalena—the first Ecrivaine–speaking to her again. "Hurry daughter! Do what I could not! Use the power of your words to outsmart the enemy!"
Over the tumult, a familiar scraping sound reached Faith's ear, not unlike the sound she had heard in her aunt's shed. A bent spade broke the earth right between her and Alexander, and who should appear but a squat, wrinkled dwarf and a young woman with short dark hair.
"Huzzah!" the stranger cried, making straight for Darren. Alexander dove out of her reach, and she attacked the goblins surrounding him. 
"Get your beastly little frog-hands off my cousin!" She yelled, mowing them down with her machete. When she reached Darren, she pulled something out of the quiver on his back: a red scarf, wrapped around one of his arrows. The moment she removed the scarf, Darren gave a heavy gasp and fell forward.
"Do it!" He yelled hoarsely to Faith.
 
She let the Ring touch the stone, and it seemed that the sky between the stones split open to reveal glimpses into another world, one with bright sunshine and a thick green meadow. With her other hand, she seized the pen and began writing the words Magdalena spoke in her ear.

"With a sweep of his mighty tail, the dragon overwhelmed the slimy beings covering the one he had marked all those centuries ago. Then he turned his golden gaze on the dark, narrow man standing before him. 
Foolish mortal! In your arrogance and greed you have sealed your own fate. Without the return of the dragon, you cannot escape this ring of portals. You were so intent on getting what you wanted by any means necessary that you failed to realize that where the dragon goes, the Mark must follow. You are bound to me, and the Mark falls to you."
 
Faith only dimly heard the Dragon's booming voice speaking the words she wrote. When she looked up, Alexander was staring at the girl and the dragon in terror.
"No!" He gasped. "No!" 
At that instant, bright tendrils of magic reached from Courtland to Alexander, and wherever they touched, his skin peeled away, replaced by hard, knobby scales. Alexander VanTussel writhed in pain as horns sprouted from his head, wings from his back, and claws from his hands and feet.
Faith looked up at the Dragon, who gazed steadily back at her. It was time to end the story. She wrote the last of it herself.

"With the last words on her page, the Ecrivaine dispelled the Dragon. He, along with his Mark, returned from whence he came, and the Ring of Brodgar was sealed forevermore. 
"The End."

The same moment she finished forming the last letter, a blast of light and wind knocked her off her feet. When her vision cleared, the other world was gone, it was the middle of a very grey day on Orkney Island, and the only people she saw were Darren, the dark-haired girl—and Courtland.

Faith scrambled over to the latter man. His wings were gone, and he was fully human again—but his dark hair had already turned silvery-grey and he could barely move his frail body. Faith knelt next to him and supported his shoulders with her arm.
"Courtland! What is—"
He gave a small gasp and interrupted her. "You did it, Ms. Dunmore; I am free of the Mark." His voice was faint, and every word came with struggle. "Unfortunately that also means that I am dying without the dragon-magic to sustain me."
Tears fell down Faith's cheeks as she begged, "There has to be something we can do!" Her searching hands found her notebook and pen, and she had just scratched out the words "He lived," when Courtland grabbed her wrist.
 
"Ms. Dunmore," he rasped, "Faith; I have lived two hundred years and longed for this day, and you would rob me of it?" He relaxed and leaned his head back to look at the sky. "My time is over. My story is done. I have reached my ending." He gazed back at the young writer and asked weakly, "Will you grant it to me?"
 
Faith Dunmore, the Ecrivaine, nodded as the tears fell. "Farewell, good friend," she said.
Courtland brushed a gentle hand over her cheek. "Farewell, Madame Ecrivaine," he replied.
 
Taking up her pen once more, Faith wrote in her notebook, "Then Courtland breathed his last. 
"The End."
 
She heard a long sigh, and then not a sound. Faith broke down and cried over the man she barely knew, who had given his life for her.

A hand rubbed her shoulder. Faith looked up through her tears and saw the girl who had saved Darren. Why did she look familiar?
"Hey," she said.
Faith suddenly recalled the school in Oregon where she had become close friends with a dark-haired girl named—
"Josie?" She gasped, surprised to remember the name after all these years. "What are you doing here?"
Jo shrugged as Darren walked up next to her. "It's a long story—but I guess as long as Pierre is here," she nodded to the dwarf, "we have all the time we need, right, Darren?"
Darren—who had only ever grabbed Faith by the wrist as if he detested all females, shocked her by putting his arm around Jo's shoulders. "Right, cousin," he said with a grin.
Faith jumped to her feet, sorrow forgotten. "Wait, you're kidding me; he's your cousin?" She gasped.
 
Jo shrugged. "Yeah; sit down and let me tell you the whole thing. Afterward, I am sure Pierre would be happy to return you to the exact moment you left France." 
The dwarf caught his name and grumbled something contemptuous in French. The three friends laughed, and Jo began, "So anyway, after I moved to Michigan, I traveled to England to visit my cousin and that's where I found out about the legend of the Ecrivaine..."

And so the tale of the Ecrivaine ends with the beginning of another tale—and so life and its stories will continue one after another until one by one we all reach the words:

THE END.

Friday, December 26, 2014

How To Story: Suggestion Box Edition!


To be perfectly honest, I never actually knew how to write a story until my junior year in high school. Prior to that, I did write—I was plunking out stories on the computer as early as age eight—but it was all purely based on whim, with little purpose, no conflict, and usually as many characters as I could think of names. (and boy, did I have a lot of names in those days!) The stories would meander for quite a long time, till I had exhausted all my wild fancies, and I would bring it all home with a rousing finish—or I would not finish it at all.

Then, by the time I reached high-school age (thanks, homeschool...) my parents finally found some literature courses that went beyond the mechanics of English and making sure I could comprehend what I read, to breaking down the seven parts of a story: the Introduction, the Inciting Moment, the Rising Action, the Climax, the Falling Action, the Resolution, and (a favorite word of mine) the Denouement. (Day-new-MWAH)

Suddenly, I understood what made my favorite stories so compelling, I knew what drew me to some books and not others; most of all, I knew what my stories needed, to give them purpose and direction so I would never be wandering aimlessly again.

From then on, whenever I planned out a novel, I would simply make sure that whatever scenario I planned would hit each of these points at some juncture, like "checkpoints" in a video game—I could go where I pleased, so long as I stayed within the vicinity of the framework, close enough to the "invisible line" that I could always "rein" the story in when it was time to clear the next checkpoint. I would introduce the characters, the setting, establish the problem, figure out a reasonable series of conflicts the characters would have to face in confronting that problem, carry them to the climax—that is, the "point of no return", the single defining moment, beyond which my characters would not be the same sort of people they began my story as—and from that point, what mattered was a resolution to all the conflict I had built up, and a final denouement that was the solution to the problem and gave indication of what life would hopefully be like after the conclusion of this particular story.

Armed with this method and my understanding of the story framework, I ventured on to make longer novels with simpler "casts" and richer conflict, more purposeful and natural-sounding dialogue. My "stories" exploded from a mere 20 pages to 50 or more, and I even found that the method could condense down to short stories of less than 5 pages.... But how? How does one start a story out of the blue, much less make a convincing plot out of it?

What I am about to attempt explanation for is the secret I use to create a compelling "excerpt" every week for my Suggestion Box series. First of all, for the sake of the example, I have condensed the "story frame" from seven points to four. The principles are the same, it just is not quite so complicated to get through them. And while the scenes I wrote for the 2013 series didn't necessarily need every part of a complete plot, you may notice that I managed to hint at, foreshadow, or mention every point in even just the short excerpts that only took a week to plan, and under an hour to write.

So here it is, "How to Story," Leslie-style, with examples from both the 2013 and 2014 series.

1. Character
Here is where the Introduction point would fall. You might think, "Oh, but this one was easy; you had things like character and setting handed to you already in the Suggestion Box!"
No, all I had was a name, and some random place. I still had to decide how old the person was, their occupation, rank, personality, whether or not there would be any supporting roles, who in fact those roles would be—things like that. 
My favorite part when writing a Suggestion Box post would have to be seeing how much of what I know about the submitter ends up influencing how the post ends up; one follower I happened to know was really into steampunk, (#1.4) so I wrote his segment in that style; another had aspirations of filmmaking, so when he offered a list that involved a century, a puzzle in 4 pieces, and Egypt, I enjoyed adding a bit of the "Indiana Jones" vibe to the characters and setting. (#1.8)

Developing a character doesn't have to take a long time, and it might not be your first idea. For example, in 2013 I received a list with the name "Elena Knight." (#1.5) You can see that I ended up writing two ideas for that one. My initial picture of the character was as someone within a narrative (the "blurb" I included). With that, though, I could only realize a vague sense of who the character might be—so instead of writing an excerpt using that character, I switched roles and made the character a writer instead, using the vagueness to my advantage and taking the opportunity to "set up" the character and somewhat of the setting in a way that the Introduction portion of a story should, even in just a few sentences. A character may be established not necessarily by a detailed description of their appreance, but by the way they interact with their surroundings and other characters. If you have a setting--like a house in the woods, or that awesome-looking fountain at the center of the town square--start thinking of characters to go with it. If you have the characters--a girl with dark hair and mysterious eyes, or a man clad in a leather jerkin with a backstory known to few--consider a setting that would best fit the sort of story they have, and work your introduction accordingly.

As for the continuous story of 2014, I honestly didn't know that was going to be continuous until the second post. The first list (#2.1) was so specific, I didn't really have an option of doing anything beyond a space-themed scene (and, actually, the idea of a spaceship controlled by an unsuspecting video game is partly inspired by the original Tron film and also a fanfiction I wrote earlier this year for a show that got cancelled) but I did not particularly like writing in space. Then Faith Dunmore and her dank shed came along (#2.2), and—because that particular submitter loved fantasy and went by the name Ecrivaine, I simply began by referencing the previous section, thereby connecting them, and decided to see how long the story would last if I continued working every list into the basic story plot featuring Faith as the main (albeit reluctant) protagonist, the Ecrivaine and the dragon as the recurring theme (in the parts where Faith could not be present, such as #2.4), and (later) Alexander VanTussel as the antagonist. Once that was set, every new name merely became peripheral to those two. (#2.15)

Once the characters and the players are established, it is time for them to go head-to-head.

2. Conflict
Conflict is what keeps readers coming back, because we are looking for resolution. Without resolution, the conflict becomes boring—like the show Once Upon A Time, that essentially started with a popular fairytale resolution and has been in a never-ending cycle of conflict without true resolution for the four years since. (But that is for another post)
As for the Suggestion Box series, it usually hinted at or dealt with some kind of conflict: from a character destroying the Fountain of Youth that was the source of her community's immortality (#1.12), to another supposedly on the run from a nebulous murderous entity (#1.7), to yet another who was simply afraid of heights (#1.11). A segment could simply be the presenting of a mystery, such as a murder in which someone alerted the authorities just moments after it happened—but who and why? (#1.2) Or an abandoned child in the woods, discovered by an innocent schoolteacher. (#1.6) In the "steampunk" story I mentioned earlier, the object was "numbers," so I had to think, "What would be an enemy of numbers?" What about nullifying them? Perhaps Nullifying could have some connotation of losing their lives... Thus the mission of Teresa, the Fourth, to reach the Londonshire sanctuary (or "Base-10," as I called it) was born.
Conflict doesn't have to mean enemies with one another. Any sort of problem will do. The style of the Suggestion Box allowed me to just start with whatever came to mind first and go from there.

With the 2014 series it was only slightly more complicated. Not only did I have to take the characters and establish some sort of conflict every week, but I also had to make sure it tied in to the overall plot line: a dragon summoned from another world in the seventeenth century must be returned in the same manner by another Ecrivaine (#2.8)—but how to get Faith from England to Scotland? (#2.3) What can I do to tie the past with the present if I can't be using the dragon all the time? (#2.10) What in the world could I do with a can of frozen orange juice in a secret passageway inside a trunk that has something to do with the year 4093—and still ties into the story somehow? (#2.11) Again, the beauty of the structure of the Suggestion Box allowed me to start and stop where I wished, and if the sections connected like a story (as with the meeting between Miranda and Courtland in #2.6 and #2.7) so be it, but if not, that unresolved conflict was sure to hold interest till I was able to return to the present-day characters (Faith and Darren) (#2.9) and deal with bringing their story to a resolution.

So this plot point, simplified, contains all of the Inciting Moments (such as Pierre arriving in England with Faith and leaving her with Darren) and the Rising Action (their journey to Scotland, against the backstory introducing the Ecrivaine, the dragon, and the Ring and its importance (#2.5))... 

But every conflict needs a tipping point.

3. Climax
The climax; the tipping point; the point of no return. I would say that this was the place I probably ended the scenes from the 2013 Suggestion Box the most—only because, let's face it, resolution is the hardest part, so if it's not going to be a whole story, why bother working to resolve it? The climax: the instant Horatio Whistlestop finds the rope and realizes he is not alone on this uncharted Phoenician island (#1.9) (I think perhaps the submitter meant Polynesian, as "Phoenician" no longer exists... But as a policy, I am stuck with whatever the submitter gives me); the moment of discovery for an archaeologist and his grandson, working on the same puzzle one hundred years apart (#1.8); the moment the acrophobic individual commits to riding a hot-air balloon. (#1.11) A climax doesn't have to be a long, drawn-out process. It can be as simple as a single step, a sentence, an instant.

The moment of climax in the 2014, incidentally, I don't think has happened yet. There have been small climaxes throughout: the battle between Magdalena and Wallenstein (#2.8), the abduction of Lady Iona (#2.5), the moment when Miranda met Pierre (#2.6), or when Jo discovered the identity of the Ecrivaine (#2.14); the time when Darren realized that Faith wasn't a bother, that his job of protecting her wasn't over (#2.13). One might say that the point at which Alexander VanTussel enters the scene (#2.12) could be a sort of climax, because that segment turned the nature of the conflict from "character vs. time/place" (since they had a limit to when and where the problem--the dragon--could be resolved) to "character vs. character" by giving Faith and the others a physical antagonist to deal with.

A climax doesn't need hand-to-hand combat or some huge dramatic reveal, or even the death of any characters; sometimes a climax is the decision by the character that the way of life from the beginning of the story is altogether unsatisfactory, that something must change in order to resolve the conflict that has been going on. It is that moment of change that becomes the climax of the story. Without change, the story seems to go on forever, and there is no real resolution. Change is like punctuation in the middle of a sentence, whether it's a comma or a semicolon; it provides variation in the inflection and gives the sentence meaning. Without punctuation the sentence runs on and becomes very bland and boring and the reader loses interest before you're even half done and you have to work twice as hard to figure out how to end the thing.

And speaking of ending...

4. Conclusion
This point covers the Falling action, the Resolution, and the Denouement of a story. Once your story has built its way up to the climax, it is time to bring it home and demonstrate how the changes that happen will affect the rest of the characters and the days following the eventual end of the story. This doesn't mean every problem has been totally solved; while the most satisfying stories might achieve this, there could be some loose ends from the "Rising Action" portion that don't quite fit in with how the "world" looks by the end of the story, and so that must remain a loose thread. (or it was a character who was only important in one scene, so they don't really need an "end" to their story)
The 2013 Suggestion Box series, with its individual, unrelated scenes, did not have very many conclusions. Most often, I left the scene open at the end, stopping in the midst of the rising action, at the inciting moment, or even at the climax, with no falling action or resolution. I gave Suzannah a resolution to the guilt that plagued her at the beginning of her segment (#1.10); I let Roger and Butterfly Huffingtree have a satisfying conclusion to his decision to go with her on the hot-air balloon; the first list I ever did (#1.1) wasn't really an excerpt at all, but a news blurb, in which the character is an author who had just released a new novel--which in itself I guess could pass for "unresolved conflict", but as far as the character herself goes, more resolution than climax there!

The 2014 Suggestion Box Series, on the other hand, is not quite concluded yet... but tomorrow, it will be. There are still several things in the process of resolving already, but not quite finished. I've established what needs to be done, and given the characters a way to accomplish it--but the wily antagonist is still on the loose, and must be dealt with before the story can really end.
 _____________________
This was a very brief, very example-ridden method for telling a story; I may get more into the mechanics of storytelling in a later post, if you all want something more thorough. I have just been asked several times how on earth I can come up with these ideas at such short notice, so I just thought I might share some of the process. Really, if writing is something you want to start doing a lot, but you're not exactly sure where to start, the best thing you can do is to read a bunch. I know that the more books I read, the better my writing became, because reading does have an effect on the way your brain perceives things and the way it reasons. Read well to write well. If you have any additional questions that I did not quite address, feel free to ask them and I will make sure to answer your question in the next "How To Story" post!
As a final wrap-up, here is a brief breakdown of the seven points, as they were organized into the four groups in this post:
1. Character/Context 
-Introduction/Exposition: The part of the story that sets up the place for your tale and the characters involved in it. It doesn't have to be very long, and it doesn't have to contain all of the characters ever to appear in the story. Also, this is the part where you introduce the potential for the problem, but not necessarily the problem yet. (Ex: two children playing with the ball might not be a problem, but if one of the children likes to throw the ball high in the air and they are playing near the street, there is a lot of potential for problem there)

2. Conflict 
-Inciting Moment: The instant where change begins to happen. (Ex: the child throws the ball higher than it ever has been before)
-Rising Action: The progression of complications or problems that build up to a turning point in the story. (Ex: the ball catches a breeze and bounces into the street; the children are worried about their ball; one child starts chasing after the ball; a truck is coming and may or may not see the child chasing after the ball)

3. Climax 
-The Point of No Return: The thing that happens in the story that officially changes it from the way it was at the beginning of the story to something different by the end. (Ex: the driver hits the brakes in time, and the child is saved, but the ball is lost in traffic; or perhaps the driver stops but not quite in time, and the child is injured, forever changing the way that child will play ball ever again) The climax is the point of the story where the character accepts this new scenario, rejects the old one, and moves forward with additional purpose to answer the conflicts that have been building up over the course of the narrative. Whatever the case, there is no "going back" for the characters once the moment of climax has happened.

4. Conclusion
-Falling Action: The small resolutions to the conflicts that occurred during the Rising Action. (Ex: the injured child is taken to the hospital and recovers)
-Resolution: The final "main conclusion" to the "main problem" of the story. (Ex: the child who was originally playing dangerously with the ball learns his lesson and resolves to play safely with the ball next time)
-Denouement: Usually reserved for stories with a slightly more complicated plot line involving a subplot with other characters. The final "tying off", if the story needs it. (Ex: Next time the children are again playing with a ball, everyone plays safely, and the ball no longer goes into traffic, demonstrating that there will be no need to repeat the same conflict scenario from before)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box", Vol. 2! List #16

^^^Micah (VanTussel)^^
(Image from a Google Search)


Suggested by: Jessica Colvin

The List:
-Micah
-Boarding house
-Tuesday
-Red Scarf
 
The Result:

In a drafty boarding house nestled in the hills of Gloucester, one young man waited in the great hall. Rows of long tables where the students ate and studied lined the walls. The air was so still, the boy could hear the gusty breath of the wind as it ruffled his unruly dark curls, and he could hear the gossipy staff as they murmured to each other while going about their duties.

"Och, poor laddie!" Said a maid to another. "Ta have such a father as would barely stand the sight o' him more'n once a week, and yet demand 'is aine son wait on 'im 'and and foot!"
"Aye, 'tis a pity," agreed her friend, "but it does tug at the 'eart strings ta see the way 'e adores the terrible man!"
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he sensed the women watching him.
"Hmph! Makin' 'im sit 'n' wait while all the other children are free to flock about. Did 'e really say 'e was coming?"
"Aye! Sent a courier, 'e did!"
"A courier? Fine expense, that! Didn't think 'is aine son might want a new suit o' clothes, may'ap? I swear, that man never spends a farthing on anybody but hisself!"
"Miss Quincy! Fer shame! The young master has more fancy clothes than most our students see in a lifetime!"
"Hush, Mrs. Pugh; here he comes."

The boy stiffened when he heard the deliberate footsteps echo through the hall.
"Stand up, boy!"
The command jerked the boy to his feet as if he were a marionette on strings. He did not raise his eyes from the shiny black shoes pointed straight at him.
"Are they treating you well, my son?"
The young man tried his best not to fidget, focusing all his concentration away from his frolicking school fellows.
"Yes, father." Well enough; he did his best to behave normally, but his family was so notorious and his father so fearsome that everyone seemed eager to contact him as little as possible.

"Micah, look at me."
Micah raised his eyes, but the hard face looming over him could have been a concrete wall, for all the warmth and emotion it lacked.
His father set his lips. "You are a VanTussel, Micah; you do not greet your father like a whipped dog." The keen grey eyes assessed him keenly. "Is there something troubling you?"

There was no pity behind the inquiry, Micah well knew. Alexander VanTussel did not carry one morsel of pity in his long, lean body. It was more a matter of asserting control over his son's circumstances: Tell me who has been causing you discomfort and I will repay sevenfold. How could Micah express that his quarrel lay with the coldness of his own father? The young boy settled on something trivial to divert suspicion. 
"I thought—"
"What does it matter what you think?" His father chastised him. "Don't meander with hypotheticals; state your meaning with conviction."
Micah raised his chin just a bit higher and announced, "Our visitation days are on Thursdays...sir," he covered the urge to falter, while at the same time avoiding any endearing reference to his father.
Alexander did not notice this change in his son. He had begun pacing and traveled between two tables right in front of Micah. 
"So?" He replied sharply without slowing.
Micah fairly trembled at the thought of correcting the great Alexander VanTussel.
"It's Tuesday."
Alexander pulled out the tiny gold pocket watch he inherited from his father. Something was very obviously wrong with him. Micah heard him mutter, "They should have gotten him by now!"

"Sir?"

"What?" Firm no longer, the face staring down at him was absolutely livid.
Micah shrank back from his father.
Abruptly, Alexander's face relaxed. He even smiled—but his eyes were still dead and cold.
"Micah." His smooth tone sent a chill racing down Micah's spine. "Do you by any chance have that red scarf I gave you last year?"
The soft, warm, cozy scarf that felt like a giant hand slowly choking him; why did his father care?
"Yes," Micah answered.
The smile widened, but the eyes never quickened. "Run and fetch it for me, son."
Micah wondered what need his father had for the present, as he had never requested any of his previous gifts. At least the order gave him some respite from his father's calculating gaze.
"Yes, sir!" And Micah scurried to retrieve it from its hiding place, buried in a box in the corner of his armoire. He had placed it there in an effort to squelch the sensation of always being watched whenever the scarf lay out in the open.

When he returned, his father held something long and thin: an arrow. He scowled at it. Micah wondered at the significance.
"Whose arrow is that?" He asked his father.
Alexander grinned when he saw the scarf; at last, the eyes softened as they never did for Micah. He snatched the red fabric and carefully encased the arrow within its folds.
"A friend of mine once carried this arrow," he stated in answer to his son, "and I very much would like to return it to him."

Nearly one hundred miles away, a young redheaded traveler had just landed in Heathrow Airport. He carried no bags, but made straight for the exit. Just as he raised his hand to hail a taxi, a strange expression came over his face. He clutched at his neck, yanking a dirty collar open, but to no avail. Nearby travelers noticed his skin fading from its normal pink to a sickly purple, and no evidence of breathing could be detected. Slowly, the young man fell to his knees with his arms straitened at his sides, as if swathed in an invisible cloth. Witnesses reported a sheen of red surrounding his body for a brief moment.

By the time medical assistance had arrived, the redheaded man had vanished, and no one knew how or where.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box", Vol. 2! List #15

^^Carson^^
(Image from a Google Search)
 Suggested By: R. R. Virdi
The List:
Name: Carson
Place: Chicago
Time: Fall 
Object: Stolen car wanted by someone (either cops or gangsters) (How about goblins?)

The Result:
September, 2014

The streets of Chicago were always clogged, even in the Winnetka area. Down the crawling thoroughfare of Green Bay Road a young man in a rattling Buick scanned side streets for some kind of relief from the gridlock. He spotted a neighborhood road in a promising direction and turned.
Carson barely glanced at the mansions he drove past. He was happy with his apartment on the west side.

THUD!

"Jeez!"
Carson nearly hit the roof of his car and slammed on the brakes as something large and fast-moving careened into his car. He cringed again when the thing didn't leave his window. It had a face—but it was in such terrible shape that it could hardly be termed human. It spoke to him in pleading tones that could barely be heard through the car's closed window.

"Please! They're after me! Please help me! They're coming!"

Whoever They  were, he wasn't about to let the grungy stranger into his car! Carson rolled forward, but the mysterious person clung to the handle and banged on the door with his free hand. The motion caused the latch to disengage, and suddenly a rough hand jerked Carson out of his seat and he kissed asphalt. 

"Hey!" He yelled, but the car thief ignored him. He was too busy grinding the gears and stalling the car, cursing all the while.

Carson heard shouting in the distance, and it seemed as if the bushes in front of one of the houses had come to life and were now crawling toward him, growling and wielding all sorts of weapons. Except as they moved, he saw they weren't bushes--the leaves clung to their slimy, round bodies.

Carson looked at the car. The young vagrant had not even made it a yard down the road. Evidently he was not accustomed to this particular variety of vehicle.

"Excuse me!" He called, pointing to the bizarre-looking creatures behind them. "Are they friends of yours?"

With a hair-raising oath the young man hauled Carson back into the car.

"It's your lucky day, mate, cause I can't seem to bloody drive at the moment and I am desperate to get to the airport RIGHT BLEEDING NOW!"

Carson stared at the frantic man—but the things had almost overtaken the car, so he started up the Buick and took off down the lane to get back to Green Bay Road.

The rattling Buick barreled down the streets of Chicago as Carson took turns willy-nilly, flying past traffic lights and stop signs to get away from those—

"What the heck were those things?" Carson finally asked as they put some distance between themselves and Winnetka. 

The man rubbed his mud-caked hair to reveal the bright ginger color underneath.
"Goblins," he answered.
Carson took his eyes off the road only briefly to stare at the young man, but the dirty face beside him remained completely serious.
"What do you mean, goblins?" Carson fervently hoped the term had been metaphorical, even though he realized that—incredible as it was—he probably had little basis for that hope, after what he had just witnessed.

His passenger was looking at a dirty, bent coin in his hand. He smirked to himself and tucked the coin in his pocket.
"I mean goblins—you know, little green frog-men with terrible manners and worse body odor?" He spoke as if the nightmarish creatures were an everyday occurrence. "Oh, by the way, there might have been a few ogres outside the house, too, and those can smell you for miles. You might consider leaving town for a few days till this blows over."
"Ogres?" Carson actually pulled over and rolled to a stop.
The man's eyes grew wide. "What the bloo'dyou think you're doing?"
"Who the heck are you?" Carson shot back, crossing his arms. "You tried to steal my car, you are forcing me to drive you to the airport—I deserve some answers, and I will have them right here or you're not going anywhere!"
The man huffed impatiently. "All right; name's Darren—that's all you need to know."
Carson shook his head. "Where are you from?"
Darren frowned and squinted at the streaming freeways and the skyline surrounding them. "Originally? Chelsea; where's this?" He pointed outside the window.
Carson snorted; what kind of a guy had no idea how he got from England to America? "Chicago, Illinois—United States."
Darren nearly paled with horror at the revelation. "Please," he begged softly. "Can we go now? Lives are literally at stake, here."
Carson shrugged and pulled back onto the road.
"So can you tell me what all that fuss was about?" He asked the mysterious Brit. "With the—" Carson stopped, his tongue refusing to say what his mind did not quite believe.
Darren grinned, "The goblins?" He supplied. "I was kidnapped and trapped in a dungeon underneath one of those houses, and they are angry because I escaped."

Carson shook his head as he merged onto the freeway that would take them to O'Hare.
"And they're going to be after me, now?" He grunted.

Darren seemed far too distracted by his own thoughts and too casual about the existence of goblins and ogres.
"More than likely it's the car they'll remember," he answered, "so you might want to get a rental while you're here." He gestured to the airport just ahead.

Carson slowed as the traffic thickened and passengers milled back and forth between the crawling cars. Darren had his hand on the door like he was just about to slip out when Carson suddenly slammed the gas and the brake so hard he flew forward and smacked his head on the dashboard.

"Ow!" Darren thundered, holding his already-bruised face. "What the bloody hell was that for?"
Now it was Carson's turn to look pale as a ghost and lost in the recesses of his own mind. "Sorry, I thought I saw my dad."
Darren squinted at the rather numerous South-Asian family crossing the street. "You what?"
Carson shook the memories from his eyes. "I'm sorry, I don't know what I was thinking. That would be impossible. Dad died years ago."
Darren moaned and gestured to where a car pulled away from the curb in front of the departures area. "Just drive, you idiot," he growled.
Carson sighed. He hadn't thought about his dad in a while—yet he was sure a face passing by in the crowd had prompted the memory. What about the person had made it cross his mind? Was it the eyes? "It's just that, sometimes, you know, I can't help feeling that his soul is still around, kicking ass and causing trouble like he used to. He was one hell of a guy when he was alive."
Darren stared askance at him—which was odd, given that Carson had looked at him the same way 
she he had talked about goblins. "What did you say your name was?"
"Actually," he chuckled, "I don't think I did. It's Carson." He parked the car and pointed to the airport doors. "There you are; hope you save the lives that are in danger."

Darren muttered something about Ecrivaine and already done, but he shut the door behind him and disappeared into the crowd before Carson could ask what he meant.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday's Milestone: The Big Two-Five!

Excuse me while I find yet another reason to celebrate this holiday season...

THE UPSTREAM WRITER, NOW SERVING 25 FOLLOWERS!

I'm not bragging or anything. Because certainly I didn't force any of you to follow this blog. The fact that twenty-five of you did, of your own volition, speaks volumes and really gets me excited. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for clicking that little blue button! I have written and shared and watched and posted for two long years, just waiting for this very moment!

Honestly, as of last year, looking at my measly 10 followers (half of which were close friends and family...) I was debating whether or not to shut the blog entirely. It just seemed like the more I posted, the less people read--and hardly anybody commented. This was the complete opposite of the whole reason I started a blog, and it was definitely not what I was looking for.

This year, I've been taking hints from other bloggers (peers such as Emily Ecrivaine Reviews and Olivia's Inkspots, and seasoned veterans such as Quotidiandose) to try and boost visibility and attract a regular readership, and so far, what I have tried has mostly worked! At the very least, it has doubled the following--so here's to the next 25!

I love writing so much that yes (shameless confession) I would keep writing stories just to entertain myself--but then it would be pointless. Stories are meant to be shared. And besides, the best kind of writing comes out of lots of feedback. Hearing from you, my readers, lets me know what to pursue, where to go with various plot ideas, how others think when they read my thoughts, where my own thought processes (which always make sense to me) might be a little confusing for someone else, which gives me the chance to clarify (which I love to do!)--and this milestone of 25 Blogger followers (and 60+ GooglePlus followers!) gives me hope that I will finally get the chance that all writers look for: to hear from my readers.

Yep, I want to hear from you! "The Upstream Writer" is nearing it's SECOND BIRTHDAY and I want to make sure I'm giving all you readers what you deserve!

25 followers and 270 posts is nothing to sneeze at, for sure! Over the next few weeks I will be going through my blog and trying to optimize everything about it: the Pages, the posts, the series', the related posts... But while I'm doing that, if you--my faithful readers--would take a moment to poke around, leave comments wherever you like (I promise to read them all!) and help me out with trying to continue bringing you quality reading! Consider these questions:

-What sorts of posts have you seen on The Upstream Writer that you want to see more of?

-What else would you like to see on The Upstream Writer that maybe I haven't thought of yet?

-Which have you found more helpful in navigating the blog: Tags or Pages?


-Themed Posts (Hit Lists, NerdOuts, RamblingOns, Monthly Reading Lists, Sunday Musings, How Tos, ShowDowns, etc.) Yea or Nay? Which have been your favorites?

-Story Excerpts: Yea or Nay? Is there a story that I haven't posted about in a while that you would like to see more of?

-Suggestion Box: THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who has ever participated in this; I know I have a lot of fun... do you? Should I continue this in the new year? Which version did you enjoy more, the 2013 series, with its individual, unrelated scenes, or the long-story form of the 2014 series?

-Posts about the writing process: I know this can get kind of nerdy... but do you enjoy these? (If not I can shut up about the crazy way my brain works...)


If there is anything else you would like to add concerning the layout or organization of my blog, or its content, please let me know as well!

I hereby declare "OPEN SEASON" on The Upstream Writer. Lend me your opinions!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box", Vol. 2! List #14

Suggested by: Dayle O'Leary

The List:

Jo Michaels
An abandoned school
Fall 2012
A machete

The Result:

September 2012

Jo Michaels ran for her life. The old schoolhouse loomed before her, a welcome shape in the darkness. The grunting and howling drew closer and closer as the monsters gained on her. At last, she threw herself up the steps and through the broken door. Turning this way and that, diving down any hall she saw, Jo attempted to lose herself before her enemies arrived.

No such luck.

They poured through the windows, and Jo realized she was in the gym as the grotesque slimy bodies poured in.
Drawing her machete, Jo repeated the longstanding objective: "Protect the Ecrivaine."
At this point, nobody knew who she was—or if she currently existed. They had traced the lineage to some British chick named Cordelia, but the woman herself confirmed that she was nothing of the kind.
The reason they knew that Alexander VanTussel hadn't found her yet was the same reason Jo Michaels stood in an abandoned school in the middle of nowhere with a machete, ready to do battle: an overabundance of Underworlders. Mostly goblins and ogres—the stupid ones with the keen sense of smell or hearing as their only benefit, like so many dogs except these could wield clubs with painful accuracy, too. Anyway, the fact that they were here in the real world served as proof that VanTussel still had not managed to get his hands on the Ecrivaine. 
Jo smirked to herself as she imagined relieving the wicked man of his hands altogether.
She was distracted by this so she did not see the goblin close enough to frog-jump toward her head until it was airborne. Jo skidded back and swung her machete, sending the two half-goblin chunks a ways back from her. Slimy arms wrapped around her leg and her shoulder, and she smacked first over her shoulder with the hilt of her machete, then sent it sweeping down and behind to punish the lower one. Swinging the deadly blade in a wide arc, Jo kept the monsters at bay.

But goblins are not easily deterred. They are too stupid to realize impossible odds, and so remained convinced that they could overwhelm their prey with sheer numbers, no matter how many she killed.

"Get after her!" The leader croaked. "She will lead us to the Ecrivaine!"
"You toads!" Jo beat them back as the circle grew tighter and the goblins stacked higher. "I will do no such thing!"

Suddenly a terrible roar sounded from behind the mounds of goblins, and the squat, yellow-eyed monsters went flying. Jo had time to breathe in relief—till she saw that her "rescuer" was an ogre who only wanted a piece of her as well. It stood nearly ten feet tall, and its skin felt like rough sandpaper as it gripped her around the shoulders, lifting her in the air with her arms trapped at her sides. 

Jo wriggled helplessly in the ogre's grasp.
The goblins scrambled up its gnarled back.
"You were saying?" Sneered the lead goblin.
Jo glared at him and stuck out her tongue. 
The goblin only grinned wider and held up a photo of two little girls in school uniforms, standing with their teacher.
"Now that we have your attention," said the goblin, "we have reason to believe that six years ago, you were seen in the company of the Ecrivaine."
Jo grimaced in confusion. "Six years ago? I—mmff!"
She could not speak as the ogre—on a signal from the goblin—covered her mouth with its thumb.
"The Master has ways of traveling through time," he bragged.
"Yeah!" Shouted one eager goblin on the other shoulder. "We showed him the portals through the Underworld of Phantasm to get to any part of Earth's history!"
The ogre gave a shake of his shoulder and the goblin and a dozen others tumbled off.
"Back to business," said the lead goblin. "We know that you and the Ecrivaine were friends. Tell us where she is now, and Hoggbreth here won't crush your head like a berry."
The ogre growled menacingly at the mention of his name.
Jo's mind spun; she had expected the Ecrivaine to be some kind of seasoned warrior—but the girl in the picture wasn't any older than Jo herself. Jo didn't know if she could even remember her. Six years ago she lived on the other side of the country, in the Pacific Northwest...

Her eyes snapped back to the goblin standing on the ogre's arm before her. She used her fingers to ease her secret weapon out of her pocket.
"Any last words?" The goblin sneered.
Jo grinned back at him.
"Smell you later," she said, and let the vial of perfume drop eight feet and smash on the gym floor. 

Instantly, the sensitive nose of the ogre filled with the heady scent of roses and sandalwood. Stench he could take, but the sweet was unbearable. He forgot about the goblins surrounding him and the importance of the girl in his hand as he loosened his grip to cover his nose with his impervious hands.
Jo landed on the floor and immediately took off running, while the goblins danced around the reeling ogre, trying to avoid getting crushed beneath him.
By the time the lead goblin shouted orders, Jo had reached the front door. She gasped as she burst into the open air. Free at last!

She dug her cellphone out of her pocket and dialed a London number.
"Hello?"
"Darren? It's Jo!"
"Cousin Jo! Hey, how are you?"
"I'm fine now, just got a little held up. But that's beside the point: I found her!"
"Bear with me, it's six in the morning. Found who?"
Jo glanced around to make sure the goblins weren't sneaking up on her. She reached the safety of her neighborhood as she answered, "The Ecrivaine!"
"Really? Who is she?"
Jo sighed, "I don't know. Somebody I used to know, apparently."
"Oh hang on, Pierre just showed up."
Jo grinned as she heard muffled sounds of her cousin arguing with the irascible dwarf.
"Jo?"
"What?"
"Does the name Faith Dunmore mean anything to you?"
Jo stopped just two blocks from her house and squinted. "Faith—" she stopped as she recalled that school from the picture the goblin held. There had been someone there named Faith Dunmore. "Oh my gosh, Dare! That's the Ecrivaine!"
"Great! Because Pierre just pinched her notebook—"
"So she's there?"
"From the year 20-bloody-14!"
"Blast!" Jo stomped her foot. "That's what you get when you work with a time-traveling dwarf."
"Bloody idiot. Oh well, at least we know she'll still be alive in two years."
"True; I guess you'll be arranging to meet her in 2014, then."
"Yeah. Take care, Cousin."
"Good luck, Darren."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Hit List: Top 5 Live-Action Non-Disney Holiday Films For The Whole Family!

 
1. Nativity!
 
I was looking through films with Martin Freeman and came across this adorable gem that now reigns as my all-time favorite Christmas movie.
Freeman is a primary schoolteacher roped into putting on the annual Christmas pageant. One problem: he hates Christmas for two reasons. First, his girlfriend broke up with him during that season to pursue a job opportunity in Hollywood, and second, his arch rival who teaches at an elite school is always looking for a chance to upstage him and be the best. 
But Mr. Maddens doesn't have a choice, and he's got one month to wrangle a whole host of rambunctious kids (and one man-child "classroom assistant") to put on the "best Christmas pageant ever."

Hilarity, high-jinks and a whole ream of fantastic songs ensue! I was absolutely smitten with the story and the heart, and the final performance is not one to be missed! Rating: Good for the whole family!
 
 

 
2. Joyeux Noel
 I only saw this film once, but I treasure it as a singularly wonderful Christmas film. 
Set during World War 1 and focusing on the lives of a few soldiers in the Scottish, French, and German armies who end up entrenched against one another on Christmas Eve, the story coalesces around the miraculous "Christmas Cease-Fire", when for one night and a day, cultures connected through their respect for the same holiday. The use of three languages—German, French, and English—instead of all being one language served to emphasize the distinction between the three nations in a very beautiful manner. I think Diane Kruger was the only actor I recognized—but I had forgotten that she was German before I watched this. That was exciting. In terms of historical accuracy, yes, I admit it might be theatricized... But as a method of really getting you into the season and a heart-felt war drama to boot, Joyeux Noel is flawless. Rating: Some war violence, possibly language (more than likely) and graphic visuals of the battlefield type--but largely safe for kids over the age of 13!
 
 

 
 3. While You Were Sleeping
 
This has been a Christmas tradition in my family since I was old enough to watch it. Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock are fantastic in this holiday romantic comedy about a lonely L-train attendant who falls secretly in love with a commuter she sees every day—and ends up saving his life and spending the holiday with his family while he is in a coma! Full of delightful elderly relatives, miscommunications, annoying friends and siblings, this film will warm your heart like a cup of cocoa on a snowy day. Rating: PG for language. (Beware of uncensored grandmas/aunts cracking jokes and slighted exes passing insults! Also... one conversation discusses material inappropriate for young children; censor accordingly)



 
 
4. Poirot's Christmas
 
All right, I admit this is rather an unorthodox addition, being a feature-length "episode" instead of an actual film—but who doesn't love a good Christmas murder mystery? I, for one, am an avid fan of Christie... And specifically Hercule Poirot... And specifically David Suchet's portrayal. The portly, diminutive Belgian with the waxed mustaches never looked so good! So this is definitely a Christmas must! Rating: Safe enough for 10 and over... anybody younger would be bored, anyhow.

 
 
 
 
 
5. White Christmas
 
Singing, dancing, Irving Berlin, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney... What could be more festive? As the peaceful holidays descend on two former army men, they cross paths with two sisters in need and the four of them team up to help out a former general and boost the spirits of the soldiers as well. The story plays second fiddle to the singing and dancing, but this is definitely a holiday staple that never gets old! Rating: Safe for the whole family! Sing along to your heart's content!