Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Story Segment: "Inkweaver"--The Legend of The Wordspinners

My name is Shereya, and in Gramble there is a tradition that dates back to the early populations of Prabel. It speaks of the tapestry-tellers who fashion clothes, the Word-Smiths who "invent" metal-works by the power of their tongue, the Earth-Tellers who can form delicately-decorated pottery that would be impossible for the ordinary craftsman; these are the Wordspinners. It is said that they can fashion the most amazing clothing anyone had ever seen, merely by the power of their words. They say a pot that has been Told by an Earth-Teller will give the meal more flavor; a knife fashioned by a Word-Smith never dulls; and any tear in the cloth from an Inkweaver is not mended with needle and thread, but by the words of the weaver, re-telling the story in a new way, to repair the breach.

Of course, all this is merely superstition. There haven't been any Wordspinners  in Gramble for many years now. Some even think there isn't one to be found in all of Prabel. The last Inkweaver disappeared when I was a little girl.

Her name might have been something exotic and wonderful, like Terrianne or Lavidia; I always call her Chianna when I imagined her. Everyone else only called her The Witch. I could never really understand why.
She used to have a small shop right in the thick of town. People would wander in because the clothes seemed meant for them, they seemed to cry out to be worn with silent voices heard only by the person meant to wear them.
At least... That's what people used to say. I never knew that clothes had voices; whenever someone mentioned these old days of the Inkweavers as if they happened, I would follow the example of my elders and remind these people what the word "inanimate" meant.
Yet many would insist that the clothes made by the Inkweaver were not like ordinary clothes. They repeated the stories that made them, and endowed the wearer with special magics and powers to make them more like the characters in those stories. Everywhere you listened, there were whispered tales of the Wordspinners; people were pointing over their shoulders toward objects that had been Told. Things were different then; life was pleasant for the Tellers.
No one knows for sure where they "went bad." Perhaps a malevolent Wordspinner blessed the wrong person, or made a bad story out of a knife or a tunic. Whatever it was, the people made it clear that the Wordspinners were no longer welcome in society. The Tellers of the clay and metal went first, then the Tellers of wood and field. The Cloth-Tellers (or Inkweavers) were the last to leave, but gradually their numbers dwindled to just the one who lived in Mirrorvale.

I still remember my first glimpse of her. My friend Larryn had tripped and torn her skirt. At least, that is what I assumed—and yet I had not seen her lose her balance, we were only walking, and the skirt ripped as if torn by invisible hands. She seemed overly distraught for such a small tear; I had wondered if she feared going to her mother.
"Mother couldn't mend this!" Larryn insisted. "It's a Told dress! And the Tale has been broken! We must go to the Inkweaver!"
She marched us both right to the Inkweaver's gate. I didn't want to go any further, but I watched Larryn closely as she knocked at the door. It opened, and there I saw her—the Inkweaver. It's funny, I can't recall much of her looks, but the way she spoke, I could feel the power she held in her tongue.
"Greetings Larryn," the Inkweaver said, "what troubles you?"
"It's my dress," Larryn explained, displaying the tear. "The Prince took a wrong turn at the crossroads, and paused for directions at an inn, whereupon a band of ruffians set upon him and now I fear he will be killed!"
The Inkweaver shook her head. "We must set the Prince back on his way! Let me see—shall a magistrate confront the ruffians, or perhaps an unexpected companion?"
Larryn smiled, "I think the Prince turned aside because he was weary of traveling alone. Let us provide him with a strong, broad companion to aid his quest!"
The Inkweaver nodded, and seemed to ignore the tear entirely as she grasped Larryn's hands. Slowly, carefully, she spoke words in a quiet, still voice. I heard a branch crack behind me, but when I turned, I saw no one. Perhaps it had been a bird. When I looked at Larryn and the Inkweaver once more, her dress had changed, and it was no longer torn! She looked much more relaxed, and she thanked the Inkweaver and continued on her way.

Also from "Inkweaver":
-The Last Inkweaver  
-What Are You Afraid Of?  
-In The Inkweaver's Cottage 
-The Unfinished Tapestry 
-Tales of the Inkweaver: "The Three Daughters"
-In The House Of The Talesmith 
-"The Invisible Gift" and "Forward Unto Danger" 
-Escape From Blackrope 
-The Rise and Fall of Morgianna Plontus-Byrmingham 
-The Morning After 
-Tales of The Inkweaver: "The Four Travellers
-In the Court of Count Bergen 
-"The Four Travellers" Part 2 
-Do You See What I See?
-Welcome to Criansa
-Meeting Delia
-A Nice Cup of (Honest) Tea
-Saving Margo
-Interpreting The Stone
-Tales of The Inkweaver: "Four Animals in Partnership"
-Tark Trades People
-"Plotting" and "Meet Tark's Crew"
-Storytime for Tark
-Tales of The Inkweaver: "The Stone in The Road"
-Moon Valley
-Writer's Eyes

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box #2

Featuring the contribution of Jan Pierce.

The List
- Tammi Carmody
- 7PM on the 30th of June
-Jan Pierce's House
- Turkish Scarf

The Result:

Detective Tammi Carmody sighed as she pulled into the cul-de-sac. The houses were packed so tightly together, with the front doors far recessed from the garages, which made it difficult to find the one she sought. Emergency Responders were already on the scene.
Officer Shipman met her at the door.
"What do we have, Jad?" Tammi asked, noting grimly the corpse on the floor.
"The victim is one Jan Pierce, current resident of this house, appears to have a husband, but we haven't been able to reach him," Jad explained, reading from his notepad. "Forensics puts time of death sometime around 7 PM last night."

Tammi's practiced eyes scanned the vicinity. Jan was a beautiful woman with light, silvery hair, possibly mid-50s or 60s, wearing a brightly-colored kameez and loose pants, both evidently hand-sewn. A long scarf rested loosely over her body. Tammi squatted next to the body. There was no mistaking the bruises around the woman's neck.
"I take it she's wearing the murder weapon?" She guessed wryly.
Jad sighed, "Unfortunately, that is correct: death by strangulation. We're canvassing the neighbors now, but there is so much activity around here, it could be a while before we find anything."
Tammi raised an eyebrow, "You could start with the person who phoned this in," she suggested.
Jad blinked, "Phoned it?"
Tammi rolled her eyes; back in her officer days, one couldn't afford to be this daft! "Yeah, I mean, how did you hear about this incident?"
Jad pointed back to the body. Around Jan's neck was a MedAlert button. Her right hand rested near it.
Tammi shook her head, "But if she pressed it last night before she died, why wasn't she discovered till this morning?"
The stocky officer waved a paramedic over. "Hey, you told me you got the alert an hour ago," he accused the young man.
The paramedic nodded. "At nine o'clock this morning; I'll even show you the automated message." He pulled out his cell phone and showed the two officers. Tammi checked the stamp: 9:02AM 7/31/13. She smiled; now they were getting to the real mystery.
"Have that MedAlert button wiped for prints," she said. "I'm headed back to the precinct to research this Jan Pierce."
"I don't get it," Jad followed her out to her car. "How could she press the button if she'd been dead for almost ten hours?"
Tammi climbed into the car and started the engine. "Someone wanted her found. Killing her wasn't enough; someone wanted a show." She stared back at the house grimly, "and I intend to give one."

The 2013 Suggestion Box Series:

#1  #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 #11 #12 #13

Monday, July 22, 2013

ReBible Series: "King of The Roses" Excerpt--"Siblings"

The Rottweiler bucked against the restraints. Strangled snarls rumbled in his throat, incapable of escaping his muzzled mouth.
“Hold him still!” Abbi cried.
I reached out and began stroking the large animal on the rump. He twitched and flinched, but as I continued to place my hand there, his movement slowed and ceased altogether. Abbi prepped the needle and plunged the puppy with his supplements.
“Okay,” Abbi turned to the sink and began washing her hands again, “Get him off my table.”
I got my hands around Denver’s collar and gently pulled him toward me. “Come on, boy,” I invited him cheerily.
Abbi grinned as Denver heaved his body off the table and stood next to me, still woozy from the drugs. She didn’t say anything, she just grinned.
“What?” I asked. She had that same look everybody got when I was out with the dogs, the look that made me feel like I had somehow performed a miracle.
Abbi nodded at Denver and giggled, “I’m the one who went to veterinary school, but to them I’m just the mean old lady with the pills and the needles. You’re the animal whisperer. You speak their language, and they trust you.”
Her observations were making me uncomfortable. “So?” I asked, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Abbi laughed again and went back to checking charts on the computer. “You’re a funny kid.”

Funny kid; I’m twenty years old, she’s thirty, and she still calls me a funny kid. It’s like no one realizes I’ve grown up—not even myself. Every time she calls me a “funny kid”, I’m thirteen again, and Big Sulley is sitting in the armchair next to the Steinway telling me I am “the funny kid with the angel music.” After a solid decade of being “on call” for Abbi during the day and Sulley during the night, I wonder if it’s even worth it to try college. What good is a degree if I can’t get a job without leaving people in the lurch? The very idea boggles the imagination.

I brought Denver out to the pens. Mariah was there with her friends, talking like she owned the place.
“This is Dot; I got to name her.”
“She’s so sweet!” One of the girls gushed, sticking her fingers through the grate so the Pomeranian-Silkie mix could explore them.
My sister happened to be standing in front of Denver’s kennel.
“Excuse me,” I muttered to her.
Mariah blinked as if she didn’t hear me, “What?”
I coached Denver forward, and she backed away, just like I wanted her to.
“Ugh, David! I thought all dogs were supposed to be leashed outside the kennels!” She frowned at me.
I prodded Denver with my knee to keep him from investigating Mariah’s guests like he wanted to; I didn’t see anything wrong with the pup. He was sweet and innocent, but he had this jagged scar around his eye and one leg bent funny, so he scares people away.
“Hey,” I called his attention.
Taffy—her hand still gripping Dot’s cage, grimaced, “What?”
“Not you,” Man, I hated the way my cheeks burned when I talked to girls! “I meant the dog.” I finally got Denver into his kennel, and he lunged to lick me in the face before I closed the gate.
“Weirdo,” Taffy muttered.
“Let’s go,” Mariah announced, “Davy’s going to start talking to the dogs again. Oh, by the way,” she turned to me, “Steve signed you up as the catering coordinator for the carnival next week. You can talk to Annie and find out what all that entails.”

Steve… If my brother knew that I’d named a particular grey domesticated rat after him, he would probably kill me—socially, not physically.
Steve Jordan has always been a model salesman, even from a young age. He could get anyone to do anything. He convinced my dad that it would be okay for him and Bailey (my oldest brother) to attend PSU together—Bailey as a Management major and Stephen in Marketing. Steven then got several foundations to fund their degrees through scholarships.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box #1

Featuring the Contribution of: Cheryl Stillar

The List:
-Early Morning
- rural countryside
- Dead quail in the road

The Result:

An Article from the Writer's Monthly Magazine, introducing Tina Tilley and her literary sensation, "The Dead of Morning."

To the end of her days, Tina Tilley, when asked about the inspiration for her New York Times Bestseller, The Dead of Morning, she would always answer, "It was a quail in the road."

The novel, centering around a dead woman found abandoned on a back-country road with no identifying features beyond an mysterious old locket, thrilled readers and skyrocketed Tina's career to the stars. The book has outsold every other fiction novel published at the time, has been nominated for the Agatha Christie Award, and rumors circulate of an impending film adaptation.

Tina tells the story this way:

"I was driving down a back country road on the way to visit my sister. It was a foggy morning, and difficult to see. When a large shape appeared at the middle of the road I quickly skidded around it, and only upon retrospect did I realize that it was only an animal, and dead already--a quail, struck down by some unfortunate driver. My imagination ran wild with it, and I began to think, What if it had been a woman? A woman whom no one knew? A woman with a purpose that ended up getting her killed, but no one readily knows that purpose? By the time I reached my sister's house, I was in such a state that I couldn't speak two words from her, I just sat down on her porch and began to write. Thus The Dead of Morning was born--of a quail."

The 2013 Suggestion Box Series:

#1  #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 #11 #12 #13

Monday, July 15, 2013

Top Ten Books That You Really Must Read Before You Die (Part 2)

To continue the list...

The Wormling Books--Jerry B. Jenkins & Chris Fabry
The Book of the King
The Sword of the Wormling
The Changeling
Minions of Time
The Author's Blood

The Story: Have you ever felt as if this world was a foreign planet sometimes? Like you're just here to do something important--but you have no idea what it is? The main character in this series, Owen, has felt out-of-place his entire life--until he discovers the mysterious Book of The King. Then an adventure begins like no other, with Owen at its front and center. What is so important about a shabby-looking book? Who is after him? Will Owen discover the truth in time to save the world he had not known existed, or is it too late to do what he was meant to do?

Why I Like It: It's an illuminated, fantasized version of the Gospel story--and it's brilliant. Owen's search for the Prince--who appears in the most unlikely fashion--the Holy Spirit making an appearance as a "bookworm" that gains strength as Owen reads and believes the Word of the King, the Dragon who desires to rule every kingdom by himself, and is consumed by greed, pride, and lies... Jenkins and Fabry make a fantastic duo when it comes to writing compelling Juvenile fiction.

*Also by this author: The Red Rock Mysteries, a great mystery series featuring twins Bryce and Amanda as teenage sleuths who find intrigue and adventure wherever they turn.

Warnings: There aren't any. The quoted passages from the "Book of the King" are straight-up paraphrased Bible passages. The series is full of Gospel parallels--and, let's face it, it's fantasy. Which makes it awesome.
The Artemis Fowl Series--Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl
The Arctic Incident
The Eternity Code
The Opal Deception
The Lost Colony
The Time Paradox
The Atlantis Complex
The Last Guardian

The Story: Artemis Fowl II is the son of an Irish crime lord. His father, Artemis Fowl I at one point attempted to turn all of the family's business into legitimate enterprises, but ends up going missing and pronounced dead, and the family loses a large amount of their fortune. Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl II is every bit the mastermind, and has made it his life's goal to return the Fowl name to its former criminal glory. He is going to make the family rich beyond comparison--by stealing fairy gold. Along with his gigantic bodyguard, Butler, he manages to capture a fairy and hold her for ransom--but the fairy he kidnaps is the unquenchable Holly Short, a captain in the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance unit. (The "Lower Elements" being the fairy realm, far below the ground; this works into a clever bit of wordplay in referring to the Police and soldiers of the realm as "LEP-Recon") The two foes are evenly matched: Artemis has the brains to get what he wants, and Holly has the fiercely independent spirit to never be trapped for long. Who will win?

Why I Liked It: Because fantasy! I love anything with fairies and elves and Ireland and whatnot--and strangely enough, though the series centers on a character who happens to be a criminal mastermind, so one is compelled to root for the fairy "good guys", it didn't take much beyond the first book for me to give over and cheer for Artemis as if he was a hero, himself. The world Colfer creates in the Lower Elements and the way he "re-imagines" the fantasy creatures such as dwarves and elves (and even centaurs) that we've all grown up with is truly endearing and entertaining. The storytelling, too, leaves nothing to be desired; Colfer twists the story and stretches the reader's imagination so much that there are a couple books that left me puzzled as if I had completed an entire book of brain teasers. I checked out the books one at a time, but I typically ended up reading each in a single sitting. Great entertainment that puzzles you at the same time.

Warnings: Magic is a matter-of-fact in this fantasy world, mostly used in a practical capacity. The only "language" to speak of is of the fairy variety; the nature of the dwarves comes with some light potty humor, but nothing one wouldn't find in your typical kid-friendly movie.

*Also by this Author: I know Colfer has written several other books; if anyone has read any of them and would like to recommend them to me, feel free!
The Alex Rider Series--Anthony Horowitz
Point Blank
Skeleton Key
Eagle Strike
Ark Angel
Crocodile Tears
Scorpia Rising

The Story: "James Bond: The Teen Years," basically. Alex Rider, a British boy, was sent to live with his uncle when his parents died in a plane crash. His uncle raised him, taught him many useful skills, and Alex always assumed that his uncle worked for a bank--but when his uncle dies under suspicious circumstances, Alex discovers that both his uncle and his father were spies for MI6--and they had arranged for Alex to take up the "family business." Fourteen-year-old Alex--living under the guardianship of his American housekeeper, a spunky woman named Jack--is promptly initiated into the undercover lifestyle, facing everything from infiltrating a high-security computer manufacturing plant to getting launched into space to prevent the detonation of a deadly nuclear missile.

Why I Liked It: We found the movie first, purely by chance--and while the film itself left somewhat to be desired, it inspired us to check out the series, and I've read every single one. Horowitz is a master of intrigue, combining Agatha Christie's mystique with Michael Crichton's attention to technology and detail. The style is positively riveting; while a fourteen-year-old superspy is difficult to grasp, Horowitz has made Alex a believable character. He's got the gadgets, he's got the physical and mental training since a very young age--and he never suspected. He doesn't take himself too seriously--he's only fourteen; most of the time all he wants is to attend school and live a normal life like the other kids his age. And sometimes his teenage cockiness gets him into trouble--but never underestimate Alex Rider, because once you do, he will outsmart you.

Warnings: With intense situations and a teenager thrust into adult life, there is some language, but no more than one would reasonably expect. Occasionally graphic violence comes with the territory--and the last couple books ramp it up a notch. The book Crocodile Tears chose (unfortunately, in my opinion) to feature a "Christian" philanthropist as the villain (he was using the money from his "charity" to fund many illegal operations)--but on the whole the series is good enough to recommend.

*Also by this author: The House Of Silk--A new Sherlock Holmes adventure commissioned by the A.C. Doyle Foundation, written in the style of the original author. After reading Alex Rider, I was astounded at the way Horowitz managed to infuse the same thrill into a Victorian-stylized mystery novel. It lost none of the original Doyle charm. Horowitz is brilliant.
The Lorien Legacies--Pittacus Lore
I Am Number Four
The Power of Six
The Rise of Nine

The Story: The planet Lorien in a distant galaxy was attacked and decimated by a violent race called the Mogadorians. The Elders of Lorien ensured the survival of their race by sending nine Garde--then young children--and specially-equipped protectors far away from the dead planet, to the Milky Way Galaxy. These Loric refugees look like humans, but their natures as aliens are revealed by unique superhuman powers (their "Legacies") each of the Nine has. They are known by their numbers--and though the Mogadorians followed them to Earth, the Nine can only be killed in numerical order. By the start of the series, One, Two, and Three are dead, and Four has only just realized the full extent of his existence--and the Mogadorians are coming.

Why I Liked It: This is a prime piece of science fiction. I heard about it because of the movie, whose trailers intrigued me. I saw the book at a bookstore and started reading it, getting through about half before we had to leave. Even with that, when we finally sat down and watched the movie some weeks later, I could follow the action better because the various elements had been explained so well in the book, and also I realized how the movie left too many things unexplained which should not have been ignored. So my advice would definitely be to read the book first, and then you can watch the movie without getting confused.
Stories like this always run the risk of falling too far into the murky mire of alien life and the origin of humanoid species elsewhere in the universe, but the Lorien Legacies keeps the stories focused on the central characters, and what is happening between the characters, without getting sidetracked or over-explaining itself. The action moves at the right points, and yet gives the reader time to get acquainted with the characters before throwing them into peril. Even now, I am recalling each of the central characters and picturing their specific roles in the books, and how their unique personalities lent richness to the narrative--Sarah and the way she was Four's example of what human life should be; Sam and his "contribution" of belief in alien life and his loyalty to Four and the other Lorics; even ones like sassy Six and endearing Seven, the arrogant Eight, rash Nine, and mysterious Ten--and each are present and realistic in the story. "Pittacus Lore" (a pseudonym; the Lorien Legacies is a collaborative work produced by at least two writers) has great finesse and I can hardly wait for the next book in the series: The Fall of Five.

Warning: There is some mild language in these books, and the violence is graphic at times. Beyond that, I don't think there was anything else worth warning.
Nightfall--Isaac Asimov
The Story: From the "Father of Science Fiction" comes a truly unorthodox narrative: it is told entirely from the perspective of an alien race on an alien planet, facing the most devastating apocalypse and impending end of their planet. It is entirely contained within the alien world, and though Asimov uses reference terms that we Earthlings might be familiar with, he does take care to warn the reader that, this being an alien planet, the same words might have a completely different meaning in the alien context.
The apocalypse is explored from two perspectives: a reporter, who ascribes to the popular shunning of the religious fanatics who proclaim doom and call for conversion as their only means of survival, and he thinks the apocalypse is either the biggest hoax or the biggest scoop of his life; also present is an archaeological student, who is fascinated by the thought of witnessing the end of a civilization while she is in the process of uncovering its beginnings. But the question is: will they survive the end, or will their planet be obliterated?

Why I liked it: I love Asimov's straightforward style. His writings are very clear and his characters distinct. The thing that makes his writing a heady sort of thing is the way that most of the story happens in conversations between characters. Changes in circumstances, plot movement, deeply questioning concepts--all contained in dialogue. It never quite feels that way, because the characters themselves seem to ask the questions "aloud" that the reader is wondering at the time, but there you have it. I love the way he takes the time to make the technology and the various "props" accessible to the human mind by not giving it strange terms or new names, but rather, prefacing his work with the idea that though the book might say, "The man put on his boots and walked a mile"; in the alien world, it might really figure that "The Grillian put on his halverns and floggen a wexer"--but Asimov will use the familiar terms because he recognizes his audience. I feel that the use of familiar terms helps the reader enter into the story; we might watch a Grillian floggen a wexer in his halverns, and yet we would feel as though we'd just seen a man walk a mile in his boots. Anyone who likes science fiction must certainly read Isaac Asimov.
Incidentally, I read this book right about the May 2012 "Mayan Apocalypse" scare--and found it strangely ironic. 

Warnings: I don't recall anything that really stood out, except perhaps conversational swearing. Definitely I would not expect this to be a book safely bestowed upon your children (as opposed to The Wormling Books or Artemis Fowl, which would be entirely okay!), so I would say if you're old enough to want to read Isaac Asimov's Nightfall, there's nothing to be worried about. It's science fiction, written by a careful, thoughtful author.

*Also by this Author: I haven't read as much Asimov as I would like, but I have read the books Nemesis and The Complete Robot--the latter being more of an anthology of his short stories, including I, Robot and The Bicentennial Man. Very interesting to read stories featuring robots as actual characters and the capacity to interact, when one considers that Asimov wrote in an age when computers were automated data machines that filled or dominated a room by size alone.

So there you have it--a whole list of far more than just 10 books (more like 4 books and 6 series) that I liked and have raved about over 2 posts--which you are now tasked with reading before you die. You won't regret it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Serial Saturday: "A Writer's Tale", Part FINAL

--> I jerked wide awake, ready to face the next adventure. My spine tingled with the anticipation of experiencing—my house. I looked around. Wait a minute, my house? The room with its garish paper had disappeared. No more bed, no more yellow lights. I seemed to be in an attic of some sort.
I looked down. I was wearing once again the tee, jeans and sneakers that I had seen incinerated in the medical bay of the Phantom. What did it mean? Was I going to have a fictional adventure in my own world now? I heard a low buzzing sound; where was it coming from? A small device lay on the little table next to the armchair I had been sitting (sleeping?) in. My smart-phone! How everything seemed like such a vague memory now! I had ridden a dragon, fought an alien invasion, been in a Wild West shootout, survived being captured by evil vines and swimming in a giant's coffee, and now—I picked up my phone. A text message from Cheryl, my sister, awaited me. "We're on our way!" it read. The time stamp was 2:36 PM. Right now the time was—I scanned the room for a clock. I had one tacked to the wall next to my typewriter. The hands pointed to just after 4:10. She would arrive any minute! I glanced at the short paragraph I had typed, still in the machine. 

"Will I be able to return, or will I be forced to remain there, permanently separated from my world altogether?”

I shook my head as the whole start of the sequence of adventures came flooding back. It was all so vivid—but had it really happened, or was it all a dream?
The doorbell rang. I descended from the attic and down the stairs just in time to greet my sister Cheryl, her husband Jeremy, and their twin sons, Galen and Marcus.
"Cheryl!" I cried, "Hey!" We hugged, and immediately Cheryl turned on her sons. "Okay boys, take your shoes off and lay them—lay, Galen!” Cheryl moved a lock of her shoulder-length auburn hair behind her ear as she chastised her younger son, “Lay them by the front door!"
"Hey Laura," Jeremy had his hands full of pizza, soda, and cookies, but he nudged me with his shoulder in greeting, "How is everything?"
"Well, it's been kind of crazy lately," I admitted before I could stop myself.
I led him into the kitchen to let him set everything down on the counter, wondering where my offhand remark had come from. Should I really present the adventures in my head as reality? Were they a story I was working on? But I had not written anything; how would it look if I talked about a story as if it was already written, when I didn’t have anything to show for it? I certainly wasn’t about to show them the arbitrary musings now sitting in my typewriter.
Jeremy remained oblivious to my quandary as he spread the things on the counter. "Crazy, how so?" he mad casual conversation as he leaned on the counter behind him. In the front of the house, Cheryl shooed the boys into the den to watch TV and told them to wait as she moved to join us in the kitchen.
"Oh, you know—" I was having trouble thinking. How in the world did Jeremy remind me so much of Jerry, Gerald, and Geronimo all at once? It was as if my brother-in-law had managed to work himself into my stories; perhaps that was why they seemed so real. "Just a new writing project I'm working on," I finished evasively.
Jeremy nodded, "Oh yeah; Cherie mentioned something to that effect."
Cheryl entered and began setting out the dishes and putting together a salad, while Jeremy went to collect the boys.
Marcus and Galen ran into the room when their father said the word "pizza." They surveyed the steamy, cheesy goodness with approval.
"I want that piece!" Galen cried, pointing to the one he thought was biggest.
"Okay, Galen," his brother replied, "You can have it."
Cheryl poured the soda into glasses. Galen took the first one. I smiled and chuckled to myself; did my young nephew know that his behavior reminded me of another Galen, one about his height?
"Okay everyone," Cheryl said, setting everything on the table. "Let's eat."
"Mmm," I said, biting into a slice of pepperoni, "You guys, this is so good! I've been out—" I stopped myself before I could give it away, and continued, "—of commission all day, and I completely forgot about your text, Cher, until just a few minutes ago."
"Oh," Cheryl laughed, "I knew you were attempting a new writing experiment, and I kinda figured how that would go, so Jer and I stopped off and got pizza."
"And pop!" Galen added.
"And cookies," Marcus chimed in, both boys giggling as Galen let out a tremendous belch.
"How is that going, by the way?" my sister asked.
"It's been quite an adventure so far," I hinted, scooping some salad onto my plate. "I'll let you know when things begin making sense."
I watched my sister; as a stay-at-home mom, I'd seen her swept off to the side and dismissed by power-women and practically ignored by the guys all through our school years. I always knew she would need someone as sensitive to her simple tastes as Jeremy. True, it had taken a lot of deliberate orchestration on my part (I admit I treated them like a couple of my own characters sometimes), but the resulting relationship was more than anyone could have hoped.
Marcus tugged at my sleeve, "Aunt Laura," he asked, "What's your new story about?"
"Yeah," Galen gurgled around a mouthful of pizza. "Goober whammy globby-man!"
"All right, messy-boy," Cheryl reprimanded him, "No talking till you've finished your meal."
Galen's voice was still fuzzy as he tried to swallow as fast as he could before protesting, "Aww, mom!"
"No talking," Cheryl held firm. Soft and simple she may be, but she had proved herself fully capable of raising boys.
Jeremy glanced toward the front door. "I think I just heard the doorbell," he said.
"I'll get it," I wiped my mouth with a napkin and stood.

When I reached the door, there was no one there. I opened the door. The night fog had rolled in, casting weird shapes and shadows under the streetlamps. I shivered, drawing my sweater closer around me. I couldn't shake the feeling that if I stepped on the porch, I would once more be whisked away.
"Hello?" I called, crossing the threshold. Something crunched under my feet, and I winced, bracing myself for the unfamiliar. I opened my eyes. Nothing had changed. I was still standing on my front porch. I looked under my feet. There on the porch was a large packet, addressed simply to "Laura." There was no return address. But the strangest thing of all was that there wasn't a postmark, either, or stamps. It was as if one of my neighbors just wrote my name and address on a packet and left it on my porch. I went inside, stepping into the front office to open the packet.
It contained paper; lots of paper. There was a note on top, neatly typed.

"It has been fun. Do not forget! —TPR"

TPR? Whom did I know with those initials? Forget what? What sort of fun did I have with this person?

I lifted the note and read the first page. It was a title page. "A Writer's Tale, by Tye P. Ryder."

TPR! The...typewriter? I flipped through the manuscript. It was my own, every bit of the adventures I had in the ImagiNation. I shook my head. There was no way I would ever forget.

I've tried to go back over the years, but nothing has worked. I suppose you can only do something like that once in your life. But once you do, it completely changes the way you write. I published "The Writer's Tale" under a penname, and it brought success and confidence. Every book I've written since then has ended up on the shelves and done well. All because I dared to let the ImagiNation tell its own story.

This is my story. Thank you so very much for reading.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Top Ten Books That You Really Must Read Before You Die (Part 1)

As promised, here's the post on at least 5 of the 10 books that I really liked (to counter the negativity from my rant against Twilight), and how I believe these books embody "good" writing. (Along with, as usually accompanies my recommendations, some warnings when warranted, just so you know a bit about what you're getting into for certain books) Since I would recommend every item equally, they are in no particular order.

Dramatic Omissions: You might notice that the list holds very few "classics," most notably the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Chronicles of Narnia series. Don't get me wrong; those are fantastic books and I love them very much. Unfortunately, I had to limit myself to ten, and since those books are basically a "given" as far as "Books You Ought To Read", I figured that most of you might have done so already, anyway, and so I have listed books that I read and enjoyed so much that you might not have ever heard of.

The Inkheart Trilogy--Cornelia Funke

I confess I watched the movie first, but only because the first book was on hold longer than the rest, so the second and third came before I had ever read the first. (The movie was well-done, and--I don't say this very often, but I will now, though I can't really explain why without spoiling--I think this is one of the few books where watching the movie would give you a good foundation for the various characters before you go and read the books)
The Story: The trilogy centers around a bookbinder and his family. The bookbinder, Mo, has a special gift called "Silvertongue" which allows him to speak characters and objects in and out of books. There's a trade that happens, though: for something to come out, something else must go in. The starting crux of the series is the fact that Mo, when his daughter was very young, accidentally read a villain out of the book Inkheart, written by an Italian author named Fenoglio--and the villain escaped with the only copy of Inkheart before Mo realizes that his wife had been traded. So Mo takes the opportunity with his job as a bookbinder to tour antique bookstores in search of another copy so that he can find his wife, whom his daughter has always believed was dead.

What I liked: This series absolutely magnified my imagination on creating fantasy worlds and characters. Throughout the trilogy there is a lot of that "trading" happening, where characters from our world enter and must deal with the "Inkworld" (as it's called), and "Inkworld" characters are transported to our world and must deal with the circumstances beyond the magical fantasy world they've always known. I related to it very much as a writer, especially when the author Fenoglio must deal with the characters he invented, and the ramifications of his power over them and their world as The Writer. One of my favorite characters would have to be Mo's feisty Aunt Elinor (portrayed in the movie by the indomitable Helen Mirren).

Warnings: In any fantasy adventure, magic comes into play, and along with it, a dubious moral philosophy. I don't recall it being emphasized that much, but in a sense, a writer almost functions like a "mini-god" in a world invented by him. If you take pains to avoid reading anything less than a theistic moral philosophy, you might not want to read this book. (But then again, if you're that type of person, you might not read fantasy, anyway). This book is definitely for fantasy-lovers!

The Princess Bride, a Tale of High Adventure and True Love by S. Morgenstern--William Goldman
The Story: Who hasn't seen the movie, really? So the story of the book is basically the movie (young peasant girl of incomparable beauty fell in love with the farmhand before he decided to leave and seek his fortune, a wicked prince wants to marry her only to murder her as an excuse to start a war with a neighboring country, the plot thickens with the appearance of a swashbuckling Man In Black, etc.)--

But wait! There is SO MUCH MORE. 

What I liked: William Goldman is the SOLE author of both the book and the movie--and yet he writes as if he has abridged "S. Morgenstern"'s tale down to the "good parts version" that his dad read to him. In case you were wondering, the sick boy in the film is supposed to represent young Willie, listening to the "original" story read to him; the "commentary" from the boy is just a taste of the "commentary" included in the book. Each character comes with a full back-story: Fezzik, Innigo, and Buttercup. We get to discover exactly how Fezzik ended up with a big black Holocaust cloak in his tunic, and the full extent of the Pit of Despair--more than just a hovel in a tree. All of this, with William Goldman butting into his own story to tell us how grateful we should be that we didn't have to read the hundreds of pages on Florin history and culture that Morgenstern "originally wrote"--which is not true at all. I laugh every time somebody says they want to read the "original, unedited version." Newsflash: IT DOESN'T EXIST! The whole thing is one long punchline. I have never laughed so hard at a book that takes its own humor so seriously. (When you get this book, turn to Chapter Four; you'll see what I mean)

The Book Thief--Marcus Zusak
Last summer, when I decided to start reading secular novels that were not classics and had nothing to do with the books I'd been reading for school all the previous year, this was one of the first books I picked up from the library, on a recommendation from a friend. It blew my mind with regards to writing style.

The Story: It's called "The Book Thief", but this is by no means the central plot. The book is set in Germany during WWII, and revolves around a German girl and her parents and her close friend--and a Jew they agree to hide in their basement. The Nazis start confiscating and burning books, so the girl begins sneaking into houses and stealing books, meanwhile developing a friendship with the Jew and learning lessons about the world around her from him.

What I liked: The story, quite unexpectedly, is told from the perspective of Death. Therefore, the reader is treated to a narrative like no other. The descriptions are poignant and ethereal in quality, and every so often, Death breaks away to visit someone, only to return and continue to watch the girl and the Jew. There are also breaks in the narrative which involve no rhyme or reason at all; either they are explanations for terms or scenes used, and contain no dialogue; or they are conversations between two characters, exclusively dialogue; the narrative resumes, and the story moves forward.
Death, it might be noted, (according to Zusak's portrayal), has a unique perspective on color, using various shades (or the lack thereof) to describe sensations of sound and smell or touch, not necessarily sight. Normally I would be very annoyed with any kind of unorthodoxy; but I found the style of The Book Thief very enchanting.

Warning: This is WWII, this is Germany--there is quite a bit of language from the characters. I only read this book once a long time ago (but its effect has stuck with me since then), so I cannot recall anything wildly inappropriate, but I am fairly certain that if there was anything too shocking, it was only a small part, and easily passed over. (Apologies in advance if you read it and find anything I seem to have forgotten; I would still recommend it, if only to experience an unorthodox writing style done superbly well, content aside!)

Farenheit 451--Ray Bradbury
The Story: In a future age, the human attention span has shrunk to only a few seconds, and the depth of understanding is only the basest, shallowest facts. Hence learning is reprehensible and "illegal." The Government determined that man's ability to read and draw insight out of what he reads is the cause of most wars and criminal behavior. Take away man's capacity for thought, and give him only entertainment all the time, and the human population will remain "safe," having no contrary urgings at all.
Against this backdrop, the book follows the epiphanies of Guy Montag, a "fireman" (re-imagined in the future as a person responsible for burning books, all of which had been banned some decades before the start of the book.) Guy meets a girl named Clarisse, who stands out from others around her in that she seems to prefer most of her time thinking about the world around her, and not just floating from one entertainment source to the other, as Guy's wife does.
Guy gets a call to burn down the house of a book-hoarder, but before they can light the house after soaking it with kerosene, the woman, rather than leave her books and leave off the "hazardous behavior" of absorbing the information they possess, produces a match herself and chooses to burn with the books. This starts Guy thinking seriously about the nature of his occupation, which Clarisse has told him used to be one of putting out fires, (or so she has read), rather than starting them.
Clarisse disappears, and Guy wakes up to the fact that society in general has become very "live-in-the-moment," attention spans are incredibly short (so short that typical blockbuster films are shortened to only five minutes, for example), and what is more, he sees an intriguing passage in one of the books he was supposed to burn, and keeps the book to find out if it's really worth burning.
He turns to an old professor for help, and the professor tells him about the value of literature, and how such value has been censored into oblivion and finally discarded as meaningless trash by a world that has lost the capacity to understand the written word.
His Chief finds out about the contraband book (having been tipped off by Guy's own wife), and Guy must make a choice: does he keep the book and try and change the course of society by understanding what he reads, thereby restoring the value of books, or does he continue in "life-as-normal," numbly burning books merely because that is what he has been told to do?

Why I Liked It: Once I got over the revulsion in my soul over the central events of the book ("THEY ARE BURNING BOOKS!!! THE HORROR!!!"), I began to notice a kind of subtle irony to Bradbury's book. Four hundred fifty-one degrees Farenheit is the temperature at which the thick paper used in books burns. This is a story about men going around burning books because of the belief that the information they contain is harmful and dangerous--and yet they are familiar enough with the content of said books to be constantly quoting it. Bradbury litters his narrative with quotes from classic works. It's almost as if the books are burning, but Bradbury's characters inadvertently preserve the information through speaking the lines aloud.
Here also is where I came across the quote that I so much love, that has meant so much to me as I read more and write more: "Good writers touch life often." It's true; the best books, to me, are the ones that strike at an aspect of society where the reader lives, they retain some aspect of reference to the reader's world. The worst books seem to disregard the real world and the reader's world entirely. (See the post, "How to Book" for more thoughts on this)

Warnings: There is some gratuitous language in this book. I loved it for its message, not it's story. I am very sad that this is the only book of Bradbury's that I can recommend, since this book was so thrilling--but it is a must-read for anyone considering becoming a writer. (And before it scares you too bad, I only came across it because it was assigned reading for my brother in junior-high; there's a bit of objection, but it's not too bad)

Fairy Tales, Re-Told--Regina Doman
The Shadow of The Bear
Black as Night
Waking Rose

The Story: It's a fairy tale--but it isn't. Regina takes the somewhat obscure tale of "Snow White and Rose Red" (the latter might be more familiar to us as Sleeping Beauty) and transports it to upstate New York, turning the two main characters into sisters, Blanche and Rose Brier, who live with their mother and attend school at a Catholic academy. The plots closely mirror the original tale (Regina even includes the excerpt from the original fairy tale at the beginning of each chapter concerning it, so that those familiar with the story can keep track of the parallels), but at the same time, they feel entirely original as the sisters deal with blackmailers, shady deals, a bedraggled hobo with a mysterious past, cruel employers who will stop at nothing to get what they want, and circumstances of the heart that any teen can relate to.

Why I liked it: This series was the inspiration behind the ReBible series. I adore fairy tales AND mysteries, and this was the best I'd seen of both-at-the-same-time. I read Black as Night in a single sitting--from 10PM to midnight. I simply had to know what was going to happen! I wasn't as familiar with the tale that inspired the first book, but the next two were definitely "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty", respectively--and Regina enjoys making it obvious. For example, when running from the "evil queen", Blanche (Snow) receives refuge in a downtown Manhattan monastery from seven Franciscan monks. Bravo to Ms. Doman for creating such an enthralling adventure from a simple fairy tale.

Warnings: There is basically nothing morally objectionable in these books at all. I'm pretty sure Regina Doman might be Catholic herself, because she establishes the Brier family as Catholic, and so inevitably these beliefs come out--though not forcefully, more as a matter of fact. I never felt preached at, and only Black as Night, with it's house full of monks, had any kind of constant reiteration of Catholic practices and beliefs. At the same time, though, it's not completely antithetical to Christian beliefs. One of the monks, in counseling Blanche, tells her: "God has a plan for you, and the devil knows it. Don't underestimate what God wants for you... You might think you're just a pawn, but a pawn who reaches the other side of the board becomes a queen." 
 The other books were more focused on the adventure and the mystery surrounding the characters.

Well.... At least I got through five books.... the other five will have to come later, I think I've typed long enough.

Go forth and read, my friends.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Serial Saturday: "A Writer's Tale", Part 15

--> By the end of the day, Jerry had finally gotten the figures to Galina’s liking, completed most of his duties, and I knew how to hold a pen just right so that I could check boxes and write legibly to fill out endless forms Jerry would have had to battle. In the car, driving down the freeway, I rode on the dashboard and we discussed the possibility of rigging some sort of attachment so that I could even answer the phone if need be.
We pulled onto the main road toward his apartment complex, and I crawled closer to the windshield. A particular sort of building caught my eye.
“Stop!” I yelled, a bit too energetically.
Jerry jerked the wheel only slightly. “What?” he gasped.
I pointed off to the upcoming block. “Pull over there!”
Jerry squinted at the stop in question, “A flower stand?” He grimaced at me, “Seriously?”
I raised my hands, “Hey, I did say I was here to help, didn’t I? The way I see it, you have an apology to make.” I turned back to the racks of blossoms as he pulled up to the stand. “Why not do it in the best way possible?” I pointed out.
Jerry bought a bouquet of assorted flowers, some of which were Cherry’s favorite variety.
When we pulled into the garage, Jerry did not get out immediately, only watched me. Was he wondering how to get me into the house? No way was I going back into that briefcase!
I pointed to his shirt, “Pocket?” I suggested.
He nodded, “Yep, okay.” He held out his hand for me, and easily slipped me into his shirt pocket.
Cherry was thrilled and nothing short of shocked to get the flowers. She went to find a vase for them, and Jerry seized the opportunity to let me slip back into the dollhouse. I ran up to the room where it all began and met him at the window.
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning before I leave,” he promised.
“What was that, Jerry?” Cherry appeared behind him.
I flashed him a thumbs-up and disappeared as he turned around and tried to smooth things over with his wife. “Oh, nothing,” I heard him murmur to her as I closed the window. I waited to see them embrace each other, and then returned to my bed. Now that I knew it was a dollhouse, not a hotel, the stiff, rough, cheap furniture was easier to bear.

The next morning, Jerry got his coffee, ate a bagel for breakfast, kissed Cherry “good morning,” and slipped me into his shirt pocket before heading out to his car.
It was much simpler not having to hide from him, at least. He stopped by a coffee cart on the way to the building.
“A second coffee?” I asked him.
“Oh, no,” he said, looking very nervous, “this isn’t for me.” He walked past his cubicle to the back of the room, where there was a door labeled “Galina Werehauser, Gen. Supervisor.” Jerry knocked very politely, and a young woman poked her head out.
“I’ve brought Miss Werehauser’s coffee,” Jerry said to her.
The pretty brunette nodded and accepted the mug. “She’s on a call right now, but I’ll see that she gets it.”
“Okay.” Jerry walked back to his cubicle. Once there, he let me out and onto the desk.
“So let me get this straight,” I began, “She makes you buy her coffee every morning, in addition to doing things illegal for her?”
Jerry sighed and glanced over the files on his desk, in addition to the stream of e-mails coming in on his computer.
“It’s not all illegal,” he said.
I noticed that some of the e-mails were forwarded; these were apparently addressed to Galina, asking her to make some phone calls or follow up on information.
“Jerry,” I spoke up, “does she make everyone do her work?”
He shrugged, “Just some of it.”
“Well,” I couldn’t understand what was going on, “What does she do all day, then?”
Jerry glanced furtively at her office before answering. “Mostly personal calls; she does some work; mostly the high-profile stuff that she can’t really pass off on us.”
“Look, Laura; I don’t really like it either, but she gets bonuses for it, and pays us a small fee for the extra work, and it gives us all more hours.”
“So as long as we’re getting paid for working, why be choosy about the work we’re doing?”
I sighed; it was about time someone put a stop to this. “All right, that’s it,” I told Jerry. I took a stand firmly at the center of the form he was working on to get his attention.
“What do you want?” he asked me.
“I want you to teach me how the phone works.”
Jerry raised an eyebrow. “What good will that do?”
“It’s the final thing I would need to know to take down Galina.”
Jerry’s eyes bugged out, “You’re going up against her?”
I folded my arms fearlessly. “It’s about time somebody did! Are you going to help me or not?”
Jerry put down his pen and hung his head. “I don’t know…”
“I could probably keep you from being implicated, but there are no guarantees. Be that as it may, Jerry, this has to stop!”
He huffed in frustration, “But why me?”
“Why not you? Who else do you think has the capacity to do this?”
“You’re telling me you already have a plan?”
Not really, but I knew I was getting pretty handy at improvising. “Yeah, I do.”
Jerry stared at me for a while, then shook his head, “All right,” he conceded, “I’ll show you.”

By the end of the day, I did not doubt Jerry was glad that he had given me the information. I may not have been able to answer the phone myself, but I could be an extra pair of hands, to take down a message or to switch lines for an important call. He still had reservations over my decision to put an end to Galina’s schemes, and he kept nagging me for information, but I figured the less I knew, the better.

The next morning, I told Jerry, “It’s time.”
Galina was going down, or this story was going to be the worst ever told.

Galina Werehauser surveyed her desk with pride. From her office, she had a clear line of sight toward everyone whom she forced into her "dirty little secret." In particular, there was wimpy, stupid Jerry Montgomery. Galina chuckled; what a stooge! True, he had managed to behave very well these last few days, drawing the attention of several directors, she knew; well! She would show him who really held the power! He wanted attention, she would just have to teach him that the only attention his behavior would ever get had to come from her; and her kind of attention was never meant to be pleasant.
Galina leaned back, letting her girth settle over the luxurious leather of the desk chair. Where did Cherry Montgomery ever find the money to buy her husband gifts like this one? Galina deserved nice things like this, not some lowly cubicle rat like Jerry!
Galina's head snapped up as she espied a movement at the corner of her desk, near the wastebasket. She glared at the corner, but nothing moved. Suspicious, Galina stood and leaned over without disturbing anything on her desk, checking for a small mouse or a large bug. She saw neither. After all, who would dare trespass Galina Werehauser's domain? A noise at the door drew her attention.
"What?" she barked. She sneered openly as Jerry Montgomery entered with her coffee.
"Here you go, Miss Werehauser," he said.
"Thank you, Jerry," Galina kept the dangerous edge in her voice. "Get back to work, now."
He paused to gaze longingly at the mug before leaving.
Smugly, Galina raised the cup to her lips and took a long sip. Oh, that was good coffee. It made her feel warm and cozy all over, in spite of the stiff blazer and starched blouse she had to wear.
Galina glanced over the reports she would be presenting to the directors soon. The numbers looked good; Jerry had a system: he would round her amounts up to the nearest whole number, while rounding Angelica's numbers down by ten. To give the illusion of an arbitrary number, Jerry added ".23" to all of Angelica's numbers, while assigning random decimals to Galina's. That way, in the unlikely event that she got caught, it would seem more likely that Angelica was doctoring her numbers than Galina. She finished her coffee, closed the folder, and tottered away from her office.

As soon as she left, I climbed out of her coffee mug. What Galina mistook for envy over such a delicious-looking beverage was actually anxiety on Jerry's part. He did not know why I wanted him to put me in Galina's cup. He was afraid she would swallow me. I tumbled out onto the desk, careful to mop up the droplets of coffee I left behind. It had not been easy to avoid her lips, but my presence was essential to Operation Takedown. I knew I only had a little while, so I grabbed the letter opener from her desk and used that to lever the drawer open. I leaned the tool against the top of the desk as I dropped into the drawer to find a certain object. There was a box of staples at the back of the drawer. I peeked at the top of the desk. Perfect! A white handkerchief hung out of Galina's purse. I grabbed a section of about twenty staples and hauled them up to the desktop. Very carefully, I anchored the staples in the thick material. This done, I set about writing a note. I carried one post-it to the edge of the desk and hung it on the corner. That was Jerry's signal. He came in with a file of papers. He was sweating and very nervous.
"Are you sure this will work?" he asked me.
"It's got to," I replied, taking up a pen and doing my neatest handwriting on the six-foot paper. "She's going to come out soon, you'd better leave."
Jerry scuttled back to his cubicle.

I had no sooner finished the note and buried it under a few other files on Galina's desk when I heard her come tromping back toward the office. I jumped into the drawer and pulled the letter-opener down with me just as she entered.

"I've never been so embarrassed," she muttered, "Why didn't anyone tell me?" I heard her water cooler bubble, as if she was wetting something, and then—
"Oh no!"

I smiled. Phase one, complete.
Galina screamed for her secretary.
"Tell the directors I had an emergency," she said.
"Miss Werehauser!" the secretary was shocked, and no wonder. I knew exactly what she probably looked like.
From the lip of her coffee mug, I could easily cause a small trickle to fall on the front of her blouse without her noticing—until she stood to give her presentation in front of the directors, that is. I knew she would come running back, desperate for something to clean it: the handkerchief. A smattering of staples across it ensured that in her haste to get the brown stains out, she would inadvertently shred the front of her blouse.
"Never mind," Galina barked, "Get me a new blouse or a sweater or something!"
Galina's phone rang.
She answered it. "Galina Werehauser—yes, Mr. Travers, I am very sorry, I have just had an emergency—no, I mean, an emergency has arisen for someone else that I need to take care of... Yes, Mr. Travers, thank you very much. Oh no, that will be just fine. Thank you. Bye."
Galina slammed down the headset.
"Ooh, when I get my hands on the little drip who—"
I heard her sit down hard in the chair. The secretary came in with a new top for Galina. As soon as the girl left, I heard the portly manager mutter, “Montgomery,” under her breath. Had she seen my note? She left the chair to change her blouse.
I crawled out of the drawer and Phase Two commenced. I climbed down to the chair. The cushions were very soft and supple. I carefully climbed to the underside of the cushion, where the shaft connected. In order for this to work, I needed—
Galina came striding out of the bathroom much sooner than I expected. I clung to the springs under the chair, hoping that she had not seen me. I watched her swollen feet march straight toward the chair, stopping alongside it. Please, I thought to myself, Please…
I heard the shuffling of paper. Now was the perfect time for her to read the note.
“What?” Galina muttered, “I thought I—“
As she backed away from her desk, her leg caught the seat of the chair and sent it spinning round and round. I thought for sure I was going to be sick or fall off. I heard Galina’s door slam, and did not doubt she would be bawling a few people out—which would mean I had a few minutes to complete my task. I accomplished the deed with only minutes to spare. (no small feat when you have to do things at six inches high!) I returned to the desk and dialed a certain extension Jerry had shown me, while lifting the phone slightly off its cradle. I heard the buzz of static that let me know that the code had worked. Just then, I heard Galina outside her door having a heated conversation with her secretary. A man’s voice cut her off. I switched the first note on the file for a second one and dove into the desk drawer again as Galina opened her door, saying, “Mr. Travers, what a pleasant surprise, come in!”
“Thank you; you said you had an emergency—“
“Yes, that’s all past now, thank you.”
Galina stood behind her desk, while I had no doubt Travers occupied the other side.
“Care to finish that presentation you were giving earlier when the catastrophe hit?”
“But of course, I—“ With a colossal crash, Galina went to sit in the chair, and the whole seat promptly fell from the shaft. She sprawled on the floor in an ignominious heap.
Travers came around the side of the desk to assist her. “Good heavens, Miss Werehauser, are you all right?” I saw him stop as a certain message on the underside of the chair got his attention: To Jerry, with love from Cherry. I was ready with a narration.
“Every bit the professional,” I whispered, staring right at the giant man, “Travers decided to keep the information to himself, and find out who this Jerry was, and perhaps why Galina had his chair in her office.” Travers accordingly moved past the chair to assist the stocky manager to her feet.
“Here,” Travers offered smoothly, “Let me get you another chair.” He set one of the extra chairs from the opposite side of the desk in the leather chair’s place, moving it out of her way.
“I’m sorry,” Galina kept her voice smooth and gentle, not harsh and threatening like she spoke to her underlings. “I don’t know how it happened.”
“It’s probably old,” Travers lied, “I’ll see about getting it thrown out.”
I smiled; a man after my own feelings. “In reality,” I whispered, “Travers resolved to find Jerry and have the chair repaired and returned to its rightful owner.” Meanwhile—as I expected—his eye fell on the note I had left on the stack of files. While Galina was still smoothing herself out, I watched him smoothly slip the file under his arm.
“Well, thank you for that, Galina. You can keep doing your work; I’ll be back in my office if you need to contact me.” He instructed the secretary to bring the broken office chair out of the room, making sure to close the door behind him before giving further instruction.
Galina sat stiffly in the awful chair she had subjected so many visitors to. I could see that her eyes darted nervously to and fro across the room. My plan was working; she was now paranoid. Squirming uncomfortably, she jerked the chair forward to work on her computer. Just then, she happened to glance down at her desk. Her eyelids flew back, and her jaw dropped.
“What happened—“ she muttered to herself, digging through the few stacks of stapled pages on her desk, “I could have sworn—“ She sat back with a sharp gasp as the realization dawned. She buzzed her secretary. “Did you see a file on Mr. Travers when he left just now?” she asked semi-casually.
The secretary paused for a minute, “I—I believe he did.”
Galina swore sharply. “I’m going to make a call,” she said, “don’t let anyone bother me till I’m done, are we clear?”
“Yes, Miss Werehauser.”
In the time it took Galina to close the door, lock it, and return to her desk, I escaped the drawer, scuttled across the desk, and ducked under the telephone. I had to stifle a giggle at what I was about to do.
In his enthusiasm for training me to use the phone, Jerry had also warned me of the system’s foibles, ones that the full-size people could do only by accident, but I—being six inches tall—had to take special care to avoid. Only this time, I thought as I reached past the cord and cables to access the bits of exposed circuitry. A twist here, a tug there—I finished as Galina dialed an extension, unaware that I had also completed a different extension.
“Listen up,” she said to someone on the phone, “There’s been a complication; I think one of the directors got a hold of one of the files. I’m gonna try to get it off him, but if I’m too late, it’s all over. Just make sure you get those files from Angelica before anything happens.”
I felt into one of the outlets to another section of wires. I pulled the right one just in time to hear a new female voice ask over the speaker, “Galina? Is that you? What are you talking about?”
Galina almost dropped the phone. She looked around the desk like a startled animal. “I didn’t—how did—“ she spluttered.
Galina’s secretary poked her head in. “Galina? Are you done? Because Mr. Travers is here, and—“
“Galina, I’ve just received the most shocking news—“
In the confusion of people coming into the office, and Galina screaming and crying and trying to plead innocence, no one noticed Jerry sneak in behind the others and lift a six-inch-high figure from behind the telephone. He cupped me in his hand as he walked out of the office and stopped in the hallway.
“Did it work?” he asked me.
I smiled, “Came off like a dream. She won’t be able to pin it on you, because they have a direct confession. You could even testify against her if you want.”
Jerry laughed and leaned his head back on the wall, almost collapsed with relief. “I don’t know how you did it, Laura,” he murmured, “but thank you.”
Just then, the voice of Galina’s secretary nervously announced over the PA system that everyone was to be dismissed early, for the rest of the day. Jerry picked up his things from his cubicle and let me climb back in his shirt pocket. We both waited until we were safely in the car and out of the parking structure before laughing and cheering at the day’s events.
“There’s good times coming now,” I assured Jerry. “They’re probably going to investigate Galina, which means that full control will most likely go to Angelica.”
“I’ve heard she’s the better manager,” Jerry said. “She’ll make the company successful.”
“This means I’m going to meet Cherry, right?”
Jerry hesitated, “Well—“
“Come on,” I begged, “you have to tell her sometime! What if she asks why you’re home so early?”
Jerry shrugged. “Oh, all right.”

We arrived home, and Jerry carried me in his hand.
“Cherry?” he called.
The house was quiet. Jerry set me down in front of the dollhouse and turned to the counter, where a note bore his name.
“What does it say?” I asked as he read it.
“It says she’s running errands, she’ll be back in a bit. She probably doesn’t expect me for a few hours, so we have time before she gets back here.”
I stretched and yawned, “Well, in that case,” I said, “I’m going to take a nap.” Nearly getting swallowed, running around a desk, and pulling pranks on a giant made for a long day, even if it was still early in the afternoon.
Jerry shrugged, “All right; I’ll wake you up when Cherry gets back.”
“I’m counting on it,” I said, entering the dollhouse. I tumbled into bed and fell instantly asleep. It seemed only a few minutes later that I awoke with the distinct impression that I wasn’t going to meet Cherry, after all.

Friday, July 5, 2013

How To Book

This is a rant post. About writing. I am currently fired up about my favorite subject. Hence I am hereby abdicating any pretense of any sense of direction, just a basic sense of what's coming together in my mind, prompted by a few recent experiences.
How did this happen? What is bringing about this post? Why do I feel the need to enlighten the general public about a topic which only few attempt, and those that "succeed" do so at the expense of the art?

Where did we go wrong?

This started a long time ago. I was studying American Literature from the days before the Mayflower. I wended my way through the first female American author to be published by an American publisher, through the colonial periods, I saw how industrialism and patriotism and racial schisms affected literature. I watched as the tone of writing got darker and cruder and less empowering and more complaining and degrading...

It was awful. It was like watching the decline and fall of the American culture. Because the two, I believe, are as connected as a horse and buggy. But which is the horse, and which is the buggy? Does society influence literature, or should people recognize that literature should be the driving force of society, and writing is the most powerful way to enact and inspire any kind of real change. This is how good writing is produced.

I'm not just talking about novels, either. I'm attracted to any kind of writing that happens in a creative and original capacity, with a right focus that says that writing doesn't "just happen" or "evolve"; I believe in "Intelligent Authorship": the belief that writing takes conscious effort, and a deliberate use of the English language to a specified purpose. I very easily get hooked on TV shows with an inventive premise and a writing staff that understands the necessity of a writer engaging with their writing. The genre doesn't matter so much (except I'm too squeamish for horror or very intense graphic scenes, and I tend to like my "dark" emotions balanced with "light" humor), as long as the writing stays engaged. That's why I tend more toward "drama" shows that actually have a story to tell, as opposed to "sitcoms" in which life "just happens" in an exaggerated way.

Even Dr. Seuss demonstrates the principle of engaging in the writing with his "nonsense" books: they still make sense! He uses new words, rhyming syllables and rhythm to inspire kids and teach life lessons that--corny though they be--can be pulled out for an introduction to critical thinking. Most of the literature that is still around today is satisfactory food for thought; do you suppose that, centuries from now, a future society would consider Twilight a suitable platform for serious graduate study? How about it's "progeny", Fifty Shades of Grey? Is that what writing is about? Is that what it is for?

I have grown to believe that literature in it's purest form has 3 main purposes: to inform, to instruct, and most importantly, to improve. These three must be in balance to constitute great literature, and you'll find that most great literature has the three in various measures.
A merely informative book is nothing more than a traveler's guide. An instructional book is a textbook. I have yet to come across a book that only seeks to improve while neither informing nor instructing. Probably because such a scenario can never happen. (If you know of one, I would like to hear of it!) The goal of improvement is like the "bonus objective," you can't just do it on it's own, but it enriches the main objective beyond it in itself.
If the literature informs and endeavors to improve the reader without any sort of instruction, it is nothing more than a nebulous account of someone else's rise to significance. The reader can learn nothing from it and it is easily forgotten. If the writer tries to instruct and improve without being very clear on any kind of information, the contents of such a book are wasted on the reader, who can see no purpose for the instruction given and thus is less-than-motivated to follow the advice frankly dispensed with admirable intent.

There are three things I have learned that all writers must remember, three principles to write by:

1. Think first, then write.

It can be said, "To find out how a culture lived, look at the archaeology; to find out how it thought, look at its literature." The term literature here can refer to both words and art, since these two serve similar purposes: representation of subjects not directly witnessed by the recipient. Sometimes, words express what pictures cannot; sometimes there is no clearer way to communicate than by pictures. Either way, the quote rings true. The beliefs--both socially and spiritually--of a person invariably come out in their literature: The Greeks' belief about the nature of the gods and of mankind; the accounts of the Conquistadors concerning the new lands they "founded," contrasted with the accounts of those they subordinated; even the difference between the values of European settlers and their view of America, versus the view of later immigrants to an already-settled country. How do we know what was important to them? How can we discover their moral standards and the quality of education? Look at the writing.

Booker T. Washington, born a slave; yet the ancestors of the same people who owned him read his writings and learn his beliefs still, decades later. Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams, simple "country men" with probably a basic education, yet the writings of these men laid the foundation for a brand new nation not centered around a specific culture or people group--the first of its kind. Did these people have the same level of education, the same access to education that individuals their same age have today? Probably not; yet how can one so "untrained" write so well? And why do ensuing genres appear so much more "uneducated" and careless? I am pretty sure it used to be that one wrote a book because one had a desired audience to reach with a specific message, and the wherewithal to support their own cause even under scrutiny; fiction and nonfiction alike carried with it a sense of purpose and a message, imbuing their readers with thought-provoking concepts and empowering revelations about their world. What has happened since then? Popular, bestselling literature today: does it empower and provoke? Does it draw the reader further into the reality and morality of his own world--or further away from it?

How many books written by authors today could feasibly claim such recognition? What do the books published today say about our culture? Will it serve as a warning to future cultures, as in "Watch out for Americans; they're dangerous people. Just look at the way they lived, what they write about!" Or are we thinking about our culture when we write, desiring to present ourselves in a favorable light, as something worth considering and pondering?

The more you read, the more you will realize the difference between today's literature and the classics is that authors used to think first, then write. The reason one wrote was not because one had an elite social standing; the question wasn't "can I write?" but "Do I have something worthwhile to say?"
Anybody could write; you just had to know that when you did write, you had better be sure that you were right, because critics would invariably circulate writings of their own trying to discredit you; if you had really thought through what you were writing, though, you would be ready with an answer for any who would try to come against you.

What's the trouble with literature today? Could it be that authors have become less intentional? In about an hour's worth of video segments, a young Brit reads through the "famed" Twilight by Stephenie Meyers and explains just what happens--which, unfortunately is mostly NOTHING. So if you're curious as to what happens in Twilight, but not enough to go out and get the book, I'd highly recommend hearing from this guy. (All rights to the content belongs to the owner, and I offer the disclaimer that there is language in these videos which I do not endorse--but I agree with his opinions and conclusions)
According to what I heard read from the book in these videos, Twilight serves as a good example of an author who just wanted her writing to "happen." If one were to put all the useless sentences of minute details that have nothing whatsoever to do with plot movement in a row, it just might make up half (if not more) of the length of the book itself.

Why would an author do that to one's readers?

As an aspiring author myself, I make the effort to craft writing that is worth reading. (Let me take the opportunity to "plug" the various excerpts I've already posted and ask you, reader, to let me know if what I have written and posted thus far is worth reading! Leave a comment! I really do read them, and will consider advice; I'm not just writing this stuff for my own reading pleasure, I take pleasure in the writing; the purpose of this blog is for the reader to enjoy reading!)

If I want my writing to be worth reading, that means that every sentence must be evaluated for its value in the story: does it move the plot? Does it communicate the character? Does it bring the reader into the story? Does it contribute to the purpose of the whole story? If not--why put it there?

Which brings us to the next "principle": 

2. Don't neglect your "lines."

It is a strange feeling indeed when you come across writing where the author has essentially "turned off" and begun rambling and grasping at straws. It's almost as if you can see where the author's fingers left the keyboard, and the machine kept typing away in the absence of any real consideration. Whole sections are obviously borrowed from other works, with no effort of originality on the author's part. My question is: why write at all if you're just going to give up in places? Why do you need that space between sections of original thought and action if you're just going to fill it with other people's stuff?

Writers of America Today: PLEASE, I beg you, STAY ENGAGED WITH YOUR WRITING. It might not feel as important, you might be very excited to go from one scenario to the next, so that you will excuse yourself for "stealing" or "mimicking" or "sloughing" your way between that... but consider this when you sit down to write:

Writing is like playing "Connect-The-Dots." The "dots" are your plot highlights, the moments of intense conversation, emotion, or action, where things happen and characters shift and the plot moves...they give direction to the story.
In between the "dots", you have "lines." Is it okay for the lines to go willy-nilly? To curl around aimlessly before striking the next dot? The dots would connect--but what of the picture? If one just placed a pencil on one dot, marked the next with their finger, and closed their eyes to let the pencil "just happen"--would it actually make a picture? And if you're not in the business of "picture-making"--isn't that what writing is for? Story-telling?
To return briefly to Twilight: what is its purpose? It began from a dream sequence--and in roughly 500 pages, not much else happens. Two characters, a girl and a vampire, discuss the ramifications of him wanting her and her being so impossibly depressed that she ends up convincing herself that she wants him. He wants to be her protector, but he just might be the most dangerous person in her life. She spends a lot of time depressed and alone, and yet she tethers herself emotionally and mentally to this vampire. And at the end of the book--nothing changes. She's no better having him around, and having her around makes his life even more of a challenge--and yet he does not change, either. They spend the whole book dancing around the issue and justifying maintaining their opinions they both established within the first few chapters. What sort of a picture does this create? A string of dots on a haphazard line. Not even any decent kind of closure.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that I never had an "inspiration dump" before. I have, too many times--but the trick is that when there is no inspiration, don't write. Feel free to set it aside until an idea more worthwhile comes along! Don't settle for anything less! Write with the intention of creating a masterpiece for someone else, not just a string of empty words and robotic actions.

There is one more principle I'd like to address.

3. Reading should feed the mind and enrich the life, not confuse or isolate.

"Good writers touch life often." -Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451
 "No man is an island, entire of itself..." -John Donne

These two quotes go together, and there's a specific series I'm thinking of that was recently published that was a sorry disappointment to me, which is the example I'm thinking of that relates these two quotes, but I'll just explain why without naming the work, so that if it brings to mind another work you might have read and felt the same way, I won't confuse you.

I quite agree with Bradbury's quote, and I believe that Donne had a valid grasp on the principle that makes literature so "realistic." The "touch of life" in literature comes in the form of a well-grounded ensemble. (Another "strike" for Twilight: The ensemble is fickle and ill-defined. The central characters aren't the roundest ones, and names and figures waft in and out of the narrative so that we feel as isolated as Bella and Edward.... and yet we know so little about them, i.e., it's not till the end of the book that we discover that the morose, truck-driving Bella was once a ballerina--wait, she had a life before the move to Forks?)
Hence my disappointment with the series in question, which began with a solid ensemble of a fabulous mix of characters, only to subsequently strip away the ensemble from around the main character until that character spends an entire 750-page book completely on his own, aside from temporary contact with characters who give him things he will need later that take far to long to describe and develop. The purpose of this isolation is unclear, and unexplained. It certainly doesn't make him any better of a person; it is among the ensemble that this character enters into the action of the story, he learns about life and he develops as a character. While the author focuses on the "alone time", though, the reader is excluded from the action beyond what's going on in one character's head--and even that is changed when he returns to "civilization." So again, what is the purpose?

Herein lies the lesson: There is no life in isolation. There is no tale in a wandering soliloquy. If you, a writer, want to engage your readers, don't shut them off from the central events of the story, only to bring them back when the "hero" is ready, and half the battle is already lost. Do not get so wrapped up in your own obsession with your "hero" that you forget your audience, who has little idea what's going on.

In short, it boils down to this: write consciously. The questions "Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?" shouldn't just apply to the plot itself; a writer should consider, when they sit down to write, "What am I writing? Where am I going with it? What is it's purpose and message? How am I communicating that message? Why is it important?" If you don't have a satisfactory answer for each of these questions, think about it a bit more before you start slamming words onto a page.

Apologies to Stephenie Meyers for putting the brunt of my "rant" upon her, but honestly... the hype is undeserved. You could have done so much more with the idea, with just a bit more consideration. I'm sorry that so much ink and paper had to go into something that likely won't last the century--at least not as the work of art it should and could have been.

Coming Soon: The Post Of My Top Ten Books You Really Must Read, which demonstrate the principles and purposes I've outlined here. Don't worry... I read more good literature than I rant about bad literature.