Saturday, December 17, 2011

Merry Christmas

I'm sure Santa's moving my name from one list to the other this month, for I've not posted at all in December. Actually, I think I posted one that I had drafted and saved a while back, but screwed up and dated it sometime in October. A shame, it was a good post, and probably went unnoticed because of that. Ah, well, it's the thought that counts. Or maybe only the thoughts you write down.

So, here's my Christmas gift to all of you: a piece of fiction. First, you must ask yourself are you naughty or are you nice?

For the Naughty Girls and Boys...

Coming soon,
For the Nice Girls and Boys...
"I'm so proud of you! Santa’s going to have something special in his sack for you, my boy!” He opened the email to read it again...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo's Last Breath

Today is the last day of 2011's NaNoWriMo. Let's see how it all has turned out, with the understanding that there are still about 16 hours left for things to change.

My 2nd period, who had a word count goal of 60,000 (30 kids x 2k words each) topped out yesterday at 62,058 words with threats from some of bringing more today. (Their class doesn't meet today.) Way to go, kids!

My 4th period came in just short of their 38,000 goal (19 kids x 2k words each) with 35,932 words. Remember, there's still 16 hours left for them to come bursting into my classroom waving sheets of scribbled words and numbers, yelling out their total word count. They aren't too very short. One kid could make it happen for them.

Each student that succeeded in hitting their goal is invited to the Thursday Dec 1 afternoon pizza party NaNoWriMo Celebration! (Wow that's a long name for a party.)

I would like to brag and celebrate my own personal success of winning MY first NaNoWriMo YWP, passing my 25k goal with 26,733 and counting! Woot for me!

My afterschool WriMos trudged in with sad faces yesterday. They were falling far short of their goals, but, I am proud to say, they were still writing. There was one that usually comes later, however. (She's in spelling bee practice the first half after school.) Word in the halls was that this sweet girl with a modest 12k goal, had over 20,000 words in hand. She arrived, and it was true. She had over 170%! Oh, how we celebrated.

Then, I went to validate her words, and she stopped me.
"No, Mister! Don't do it."

I was startled, and tried to explain that I was validating her win, so she would have her little purple Winner bar.

"No, I don't want to do that. I didn't finish the story. I'm only half way done, and there's no way I'll finish it in time. I'm not a winner yet, and I hold to that decision."

How can I not respect such integrity? I searched the FAQs but could find nothing on what to do if you hit (or explode) your word count, but aren't done with the story at the end of the month. For now, she remains unvalidated... but she's a winner in my book.


****************************************************

Update: My wife went and found some information and emailed me to have something to help sway the girl, since she couldn't comment from work. The email is below.

From the FAQs, The Basics, "How do you win?":

"You win NaNoWriMo by writing to your word-count goal by midnight on November 30."

Writing to your word-count goal. Not finishing your novel.

Also, in the CreateSpace talks:

"... you will receive a redemption password when you reach your word-count goal and become an official NaNoWriMo 2011 winner."

When you reach your goal. Not when you finish your book.

I'd say it's pretty clear!

So during my off period, I pulled her out of class and presented this information to her. After assuring her that she could (and should) finish the work and pursue publishing in the spring, she confirmed that she did want to validate now. So we quickly grabbed a computer and got her validated. I am so very proud of her, and excited about the future of her story.

Then, when I got home, I had the following email from the Office of Letters and Light. I think Tim said it quite well.

Hi there,

Wow, she has real grit to go with her drive, it sounds like; that's fantastic. Our official position is basically that, if she hits her word count goal, we consider her a winner. We also encourage young writers to continue writing their novels, and to edit them in later months. I'm going to link a FAQ about it here: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/node/512033

This is also our official position on how to win: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/node/512006

I hope this helps! Thank you for writing in, and please let your student know that we are incredibly proud of her accomplishment, and that she deserves to celebrate!

Tim Kim
Office Captain
The Office of Letters and Light

Monday, November 21, 2011

Missed a week

Missed a week? I don't know what you're talking about.

Yeah, okay, I admit it. I could blame it on being sick, but I didn't get sick until the middle of last week, so I don't have much of an excuse. I wish I had a really recent update on my students, but I was out sick much of last week, so I don't have their current numbers. The week before that, though, one class had a total of 35,000 words! Fantastic. I'm really excited to see what they have after this week of Thanksgiving break. It'll be the last class period during NaNoWriMo, so really have to be done by that point, and they know it. Crossing my fingers.

I, while still underscoring for the official adult WriMo goal, am having my best NaNo year yet! I currently as of yesterday have just over 15,000 words, which is 60% of my 25k goal. Today and tomorrow are dedicated to writing, with Wednesday as a safety net. I plan to be done by Thanksgiving. It is a marvelous feeling to finish a book like that. To set a momentous goal and achieve it is a sensation that you carry with you. I love seeing it in my students. I love feeling it in me.

Now, on to random-doesn't-actually-matter-just-thoughts-about-me-out-of-my-head stuff. This morning, I spent nearly an hour in Barnes & Noble waiting for the Jewelry store next door to open. I don't usually have the time to just "hang out" in B&N, or any other bookstore, much to my chagrin. Got to tell you, I love it. I imagine finding my name on the shelf. I run my fingers tenderly across the leather spines. (Have you SEEN the new B&N Leatherbound Classics editions? Bibliogasm.) I touch the covers of treasured stories from my past, or of world-changing classics and there's an electric charge that runs through me, connecting me with Captain Ahab, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dorian Gray, Shakespeare, Scheherazade, or HG Wells. It's a world that I love being a part of. The power and joy of the written word, the very feel and pleasure of holding a good book.

I do enjoy having digital books, and I use Shaker (my iPod) to read on, but shopping in iTunes and downloading a pdf just doesn't have that same experience. You can laugh. Apple and the Nook people certainly want you to, and make fun of that sentiment in their commercials, but the reality is it is true. I am not lighting torches and waving pitchforks over the coming of digital publishing; I think it's awesome. Neither, however, am I using my old paperbacks for toilet paper. They can, and will, coexist. And I will indulge in both.

Now it's time for me to get my name on one of them.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day late and a few words short

This post is going up a day late because, well, life is just like that.

I had 3366 words at the end of last week, and I was excited about the forward progress. Then the weekend came and I had time to really sit down and talk through the project. I realized that i had made a mistake in my planning. Fixing it meant that I had to toss about 300 words of the labyrinth I had begun. (I saved it for later.) 300 words isn't much, but that meant my word count was going backwards! Plus, I no longer had that planned labyrinth. I had to come up with something new. It was just a setback, not an ending, and I am pushing forward and will be successful.

My students, on the other hand... nearly knocked me over with their word counts! They each have a goal of 2,000 words. Most of them came back after the first week with quite respectable word counts. Some, however, really surprised me. I have two that were within 200 words of 2k, and several that passed the 50% mark! This may not be high word counts for the WriMos that are used to thousands a day, but for a class of Middle School students that may not have chosen the class and had no idea it included a project like this, these are great numbers. The best part is that when I asked if they were almost done with the story itself, I got answers like "No way, I'm still early in the Rising Action." and "I just hit the Inciting Incident!"

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wonderful Time of Year

I won't say it's the "most wonderful time of the year," but for me it comes pretty close. I get Halloween, when I can wear costumes without people laughing and pointing (except in a good way), and then stepping on the heels of it starts NaNoWriMo! It's non-stop fun! (Yes, that's me painting my daughter's eyes black for her batgirl mask.)

Like last year, my classes are participating in NaNoWriMo, and I'll be giving updates on them throughout the month. This time, I only have two classes of creative writing students, so they are going to target one total anthology.

This past summer, my family published the game manual for a table-top rpg that they've been designing and playing for about two decades called Elven Fire. (This is still on topic, trust me.) Labyrinths for the game, however, are always in constant demand. I've been writing labyrinths for the past year, both for family games, and for my school's after school program. So I decided to use NaNoWriMo to write a set of labyrinths that I can then put out there for other people to use. The creator of the game is also using NaNoWriMo to write a book of labyrinths, so mine will be targeted for the GM-in-training (Game Master), so to speak.

tLike most things, This is more complicated than it sounds. I have to figure out what information inexperienced GMs need, and how to divide the complexities of the game between GM levels. Well, much like governments sometimes, I will drive ahead determinedly, despite being dreadfully uncertain of exactly where I am going!

If you are interested in getting a copy of the manual (labyrinths coming soon!), You can get it from CreateSpace or Amazon.com Check out the game's history and such at www.elven-fire.com.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gods of Justice Review: Identity Crises

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It's an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn't know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I'll be reviewing them one story at a time in this "Gods of Justice Review series."

***Warning: Spoilers on this one***

Identity Crises by Lisa Gail Green is the story of identical twin sisters who have more in common than either of them realize. One sister is the classically perfect kid: the best grades (Easily), the social butterfly, the shining extra curriculars, the boyfriends, and, to top it all off, super powers. The other, less fortunate sister, struggles to pass, never gets the guy she likes, feels awkward, and buries herself in video games and books at home.

As the story goes (that sounds so legendary), Leslie, the less-than-perfect, follows Miranda "Mir," the more-than-you-could-ask-for, into the bad side of town at night to catch her doing something she shouldn't. I like names to mean something, without being Pilgrim's Progress level of allegorical. Green uses extremely subtle names for the twins that are not at first obvious. Leslie = less while Miranda, Mir = more. Very clever, though what mean parents they must have!

Naturally, Less catches More changing into her superhero costume in a back alley. Then she, in turn, gets caught in the back alley by More's boyfriend (who Less loved first, of course). The boyfriend and Less leave the safety of the alley to watch the battle between SuperMore and the Big Bad Ugly guy, who is a tech villain. In the course of the battle, Mayhem, the villain, attacks an "innocent bystander" (naturally, he picks Less) and the boyfriend jumps in the way to save her. The boyfriend gets frozen, SuperMore takes a serious hit/injury, and Less shows that she's braver and smarter than she thinks she is. Mayhem takes off with his new popsicle as hostage/collateral, and throws back a meeting time and place.

Less helps More back home, and More insists that Less must take her place and go rescue the boyfriend, as More is temporarily confined to bed until she heals. Less practices all day with the magical stone in the belt (source of powers) and argues with herself about whether or not she can pull this off,and be the hero.

I'm going to leave you in the dark about what happens to the boyfriend and the villain, but she does make a pretty good showing of herself as a hero, and the twins decide to both be SuperMore, as the better sister confesses that she always thought the other one was better, due to her "street smarts" and quick thinking.

Now that you have the summarized storyline, on to my review. In short, the plot/action of this story was very well done. The villain acted reasonably, while still being classically villainous. In fact, there's one part, toward the end, where the villain is talking too much (they do that), and starts whining about how the hero's not acting the way she is supposed to. He studied videos of her moves and style and spent hours fire-proofing his suit. Shut up and take it, whiney-butt, she's taking you down. I loved that moment.

Some of the best foreshadowing in the action was during that initial scene where Less is watching SuperMore's battle. Despite her self-deprecating, she thinks fast when she gets involved, and sees errors the sister is making, tricks the villain is laying, before anyone else does. It's a good setup for her being successful later, and painted well. It makes me "buy-in" to the sister being good at it later, while defusing the bomb of the "instantly amazing superhero" that this could have been. A cape and a mask do not make you invincible. (They just make you look really cool!)

However, reviews, like coins, have two sides. What I didn't like about the story, was in the characterization. Not that the characters aren't good ones. I like the idea of Less-More twins, but the nature of the writing made the characters difficult to bring out. Let me explain. The problem with Flash Fiction (very short stories) is that there is very little in the way of resources to play with. With such limited word count, you have to develop the characters fast, and if you want to make the reader care about them, you don't have much time to do it, because the climax is right around the corner. If you are working with deep, interesting characters, this makes it even harder. Green could have spent her entire word count just developing these twin sisters. Instead, she has to paint their entire lives and relationship as fast as she can in order to move the story forward. Thus, the characterizations come across a little rushed and heavy-handed. I think it would have been nice if they had either tried to show a little less depth, or lengthened the story to allow for smoother development.

The other thing that got me was the first person narrative. I actually have comments on both side for this. First, let me say that I've never been a fan of first person writing. My first impression is almost always "Why are you telling me this?" It hardly ever feels like an actual recounting of the events as experienced by the person telling them. I tend to avoid it myself. However, I did not at first even notice that it was first person, I was just reading. That's a really good thing. Being first person, however, meant Less spent a lot of time telling me how great her sister was, and how pathetic she was. Telling is something said to be avoided in fiction anyway, and this just got a little tiring after a while. I once broke up with a girl for the same reason. Despite that, I did like Less, and really enjoyed her meeting with Mayhem.

In the end, the girls decide to share the identity of the Super Hero. (Is it split personality if you have two people sharing one personality instead of two personalities sharing one person?) Their resolution and disagreement over who is the better sister was a little too easy for me. Perhaps because of the first person narrative, we never got inside More's head. I was rather hoping they would find a way to be super heroes together, but both being the same super hero has some interesting possibilities as well.

My summation: worth reading, I just wanted more of it to read.

You can find more about and from Lisa Gail Green at her website or on her blog. She's also a delightful person to follow on Twitter.

The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom
Going My Own Way by Dayton Ward

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Teaching Materials: The Letter

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

The past couple of posts in this series have focused on spelling. My classes are graded in three areas: Prewriting, Writing, and Editing. Spelling falls under the editing category. This week, I thought I would jump over to the Writing category. The following is not so much a worksheet, as a model for them, to show how to add detail in order to "explode the moment," as my district calls it. Beginning writers have a tendency to gloss over entire scenes, because they are used to watching them play out on television or in movies instead of reading through them. This, I believe, is the same reason they struggle so much with describing characters and setting: on the screen, it is never described, just shown.

The first one I show them is a short little paragraph that covers an entire scene. Below is the first version of The Letter.

The Letter

It was night. It was windy. The girl stood on the roof. A man walked up to her. He gave her a paper. Then the man jumped off. The girl read the paper and cried and threw the paper away.

This I show them on one screen. Even the kids can tell you it's bad. Then I tell them I have another version, and ask them to see if they like it better. Reading the second one has every kid's attention.

The Letter

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind howled around the corners of the street. Above the street, the wind and rain assaulted the rooftops.

On the roof stood a girl, wearing a dark trench coat with a hat pulled low over her eyes. Whether it was meant to keep out the rain, or hide her face wasn’t clear. She seemed to be waiting for someone. It must be an exceedingly serious reason to be out on a rooftop in such blustery wind and biting rain.

Suddenly, the rooftop door opened. The wind slammed it against the wall. The man standing in the doorway had long, stringy hair and a cruel-looking face. His countenance made the scar across one eye look almost cheerful. He stepped out onto the roof, leaving the old wooden door to slam and swing back and forth helplessly in the wind.

As he walked up to the girl in the broad-rimmed hat, he held out his right hand. Clenched in his fist was a paper envelope wrapped in plastic. She hesitated, but accepted the mysterious package. In a flash of lightning, she could just barely make out the address on the outside of the envelope.

She looked up to ask a question just as he stepped up onto the ledge. This was so startling that her question froze unvoiced in her throat. Then the man jumped.

“No!”

She stepped forward, but it was too late. He was gone, even more mysteriously than he came. She ripped open the envelope and held the letter in both hands to keep the wind from ripping it away. As she read, her sudden tears mixed with the pouring rain. She finished the letter and stood, frozen, shocked. Finally, she opened her fingers and let the wind take the hateful letter out of her life.

After reading this, I have to go through 5 minutes of questions about what happened to the two characters and what was in the letter. To which I have to shrug repeatedly, with a knowing smile. Then we discuss what made the two versions different. I go back to the first version and point out how every piece was turned into something larger. Practically every sentence in the first version became a paragraph in the next. "It was night. It was windy." From those two sentences, we get a full paragraph of setting description in the second. The same with the next sentence about the girl, and so on.

At the end, I ask them to choose a piece of their writing that they feel matches the first version, and turn it into the second one. This has been a pretty effective lesson in the past; I look forward to trying it this year.

*********

Other posts in this series:
Land of Xanth
Thief & Chief
Key to Happyness

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Teaching Materials: Key to Happyness

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

This is the companion worksheet to Thief & Chief, which I posted last time. Before giving out either of these, we cover the rules that are included in them.

Name: _________________
Period:___ Date: _________


Please correct the following paragraph. These mistakes focus on the following rules: Changing Y to I, and Doubling the Final Consonant. Previously covered spelling rules may also be present. Each of the 25 errors is worth 4 points.

Their was one key to happyness in Jane’s life: she partyed. Parting was everything to her. It occupyed all of her free time and deli ghtted her and her freinds. There favorite place to party was a club that admited them even though they had not agged to 18 yet. They had made copyes of they’re driver‘s licenses and handded them over, smileing. The IDs claimmed the girls were 21. They had tryed to get into other clubs, but the bouncers stoped them at the door. One threatenned to call there parents! Jane finaly was geting to have a good time, when suddennly, she heard a bad sound: “Police. Everyone stay where you are!" They were takeing everyone’s IDs and puting them under arrest! When her parents came to get her, she was ashammed of what she had done.

*********

The first post in this series was Land of Xanth.
The second was Thief & Chief.

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Teaching Materials: Thief & Chief

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

I hand out sheets that detail a few spelling rules, and then cover them about two at a time. After covering the spelling rules, I give out a worksheet for homework that has a very short story or passage which targets those particular rules. The following little story targets three rules: i before e, dropping the final e, and the homophones there, their, and they're. The students have to correct the errors for homework. There are 25 of them in this little story.

The Theif was rideing a stolen bicycle he had gotten from the Clown Cheif. The fameous Cheif had said that it was absolutly the safest ride in town. The clowns had decieved the theif, however. The bike was not the safest ride at all; it was a hopeless peice of junk. There idea of a joke was going to leave the theif sitting they’re on the side of the road. Although the theif beleived that it was a well-mad bike, the wheels were becomeing a problem. The rubber was wasteing away as he rode. Soon, he was sitting in the gutter, hopeing to recieve a bit of timly luck. Fortunatly, a nieghbor was driveing by at that very moment. They threw the bike into the trash and went looking for thier freinds the clowns.

You can find the first post in this series here. And no cheating!

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Teaching Materials: Xanth

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

This first one I usually give out the first week, and they mostly get credit for trying. However, it's a fun way to judge how well they edit, their "wordsmith" level, and give them a peek at what is in store for them. I didn't write this one, I borrowed the passage from Piers Anthony's Xanth series, credited at the bottom.

Let's see how many errors you can find! Leave your count in the comments. ;)

Name: ________________
Period:________________


Dor is a student in a land called Xanth, which is next door to a place called Mundania. His teacher asked him to write an essay about Xanth. Dor isn’t a good speller, so he got a “spelling bee” to help him. Thanks to the bee, nothing in his essay is misspelled, but he still didn’t get a very good grade. Can you do better than Dor? Find and correct all of Dor’s spelling mistakes. Here’s a hint: there are 52 of them!



The Land of Xanth
buy Door

Eye live inn the Land of Xanth, witch is dis-stinked from Mundania inn that their is magic inn Xanth and nun inn Mundania. Every won inn Xanth has his own magic talent; know to are the same. Sum khan conjure things, and others khan make a whole ore illusions ore khan sore threw the heir. Butt inn Mundania know won does magic, sew its very dull. They’re are knot any dragons their. Instead their are bare and hoarse and a grate many other monsters. Hour ruler is King Trent, whoo has rained four seventeen years. He transforms people two other creatures. Know won gets chaste hear; oui fair inn peace. My tail is dun.

From Centaur Aisle by Piers Anthony, p. 14

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writer's Update

School is back in, and I now have a schedule of writing on Saturday mornings for 3 hours. My goal is Hero Games. That project has been mostly stalled since the beginning of the summer. Every time I start to attack it, something else comes up. Just this week, I got an email from Cliffhanger Books about another publisher, Damnation Books, that had put out a call for submissions for a corrupted superhero anthology.

Naturally, it caught my attention. I even happen to have an unfinished corrupted hero story buried in my archives. But, I told myself, I am supposed to be working on Hero Games. I know that story would need dusting off and polishing, at the very least. So, I took a glimpse at it, and it could certainly use some work. It also, however, is a pretty good story.

Thus, I get caught by this little dilemma: novel-in-progress, or anthology submission? Not to mention trying to maintain this blog, keep up with Twitter, read my blogroll, etc. etc. At least NaNoWriMo isn't really until November, and I have time to plan for that during NaNoWriMo after school. (I have three students ready to write, so far!)

NaNo is November, the anthology due date is December, and Hero Games has no schedule but mine. So, for now, I go back to Hero Games until I can get it figured out.

I leave you this week with one thought: With so many irons in the fire, how does one find enough fuel?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back to the Books

School has started again. Summer's lazy (ha!) days are at an end, and pencils and papers once more begin. This, of course, means I'm suddenly swamped with all kinds of stuff, as I teach middle school Creative Writing and Theatre, sponsor after school programs (three, this year), and have to organize for the school plays, as well as NaNoWriMo.

I do intend to maintain my regular posts, but there are likely to be some teaching ones added in as well. We've only been back in school a week, but my students have already edited a passage of writing, made their first, basic character, and written a short piece of fiction.

The short piece of fiction was my favorite thus far. Here was the assignment: They were to write a short (half-page) bio about themselves for homework, due the next class day. The catch? Everything in it had to be lies, except their name. (Had to know to whom to give the grade!)

It was awesome. Their initial reaction to having to write a short bio was predictable: groans and disappointed expressions. The news that it was required to be packed full of lies, however, was met with a mixture of disbelief and delight.

The results were even better. In my classes, I have a popstar that hangs out with Nikki Manaje and Selena Gomez, a top secret rocket-maker (can't tell you his name, it's classified), a kid that got into a fight with Justin Bieber, a successful 32-yr old writer (25 books to his name, but not sure why he's still in middle school!), and a Hollywood director.

All in all, this looks like it will be a fun year.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gods of Justice Review: Going My Own Way

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It's an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn't know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I'll be reviewing them one story at a time in this "Gods of Justice Review series."

Going My Own Way by Dayton Ward struck me as an exercise in characterization. The plot was thin and the setting, other than the midst of a building on fire, was nonexistent. That being said, the characterization was fun. It was a very interesting twist to see a super-powered individual stepping into what is traditionally a mortal's job.

The story follows Daniel Balin as he and his partner work through a fire trying to rescue people trapped in the farthest possible safe place. The narrative is split between the current action and flashbacks of Daniel's life, stepping stones that led him to where we find him in this story. The depth of Daniel's character, and his decision not to follow in his father's famous footsteps, make an excellent main character. I particularly like the touch that we see him and his father interact at the end. Don't expect any tearful reunions or fatherly advice, however. Despite Daniel's personal life decisions, he isn't any different at the end of the story than he was at the beginning. Daniel is a static, instead of dynamic, character.

At the beginning, his partner's character starts to develop, and it feels good. However, about half way through, she seems to just become another complication for him to overcome. A shame, really. She was almost the weakness that otherwise doesn't seem to exist for him. Remember, even Superman has his kryptonite. Daniel isn't all powerful, I was just never afraid for him, nor felt pity for him during the story. I liked Daniel, I just didn't feel any sympathy toward him.

The plot of the story was rescuing the group of people from the fire. There were some good twists here, despite being a very simplistic plot. The safe room housing the people was in the farthest section of the basement of the building, and the closer stairwell has already fallen victim to the fire. The first explosion was a little predictable, but fun and well done, with even an injury to complicate things. The final entrapment from the fire, however, was more of a surprise. It was also the closest I came to questioning Daniel's safety and/or success.

The flashbacks, instead of adding complication and revealing plot, merely revealed character. No bad thing, but it helps the character without helping the plot. Ideally, a flashback can do both.

As an overall read, the characters were unchanged from beginning to end of story. Despite being static, the characterization was deep and rich, with lots of potential and unique traits all his own. The conflict, though surely great for those trapped, was minimal for the main character, and almost non-existent for the reader. The setting was limited, being almost completely restricted to the fiery basement, though well-painted otherwise.

The next installment of this series will be Lisa Gail Green's Identity Crisis.


The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tessa's HateFest

Today is the Day of Hate, declared so by Tessa's current blogfest: I Hate You Blogfest. Below is my own offering to the maelstrom of hate that she is building on the web today. Be warned: it's longer than many of the others, at 2600 words, but I hope you find it worth the read.

The stipulations of the HateFest are as follows:

1. Sign up by the end of August 12th. The time is 4:22 PM Central Standard Time. I have hours until the cutoff!

2. On August 12th, post a story, an excerpt of your work or a poem you've written that shows HATE of some form or another - your character hates someone, someone hates your character, or maybe you hate someone/something? Total check. Hate doesn't get much hotter than this. (There's a pun in there.)

3. Once you've posted, go check out the other entries and share some comment love! I've already read and commented on Donna Hole and Word+Stuff.

4. Don't forget to link back to [Tessa's] blog when you post so people can find the other entries. I've now linked back twice.
Thanks, Tessa, for this really fun blogfest!

Oh, I suppose I should mention that this is a story placed in the world of On Common Ground that isn't in the actual novel. Also, it happens afterward, so try to forget you read this if you get your hands on the actual novel!




* * *

He tightened the Palm Colors around his palms. Originally, they were the red rags dipped in the blood of his first kill that symbolized his acceptance and rank in the gang. The fact that his first kill hadn’t actually died was a separate issue. He looked up as a demon walked by and nodded hello before going back to his thoughts. He’d moved up to a completely different type of gang now, but he had kept his palm colors. They reminded him of the grudge he held for the one that got away, and the angel that had helped her.

He clenched his fist suddenly, thinking of that trio, and flames engulfed his hand. He flicked his wrist and opened his fist and the emotional fireball shot into the already scorched wall opposite him. He flicked his middle finger at the wall, sending a small jet for each of them. The cop. Hiss. The angel. Scorch. And that goody two-shoes demon. Blast. Though if it weren’t for that pansy demon kid going to the other side, his dad Nezbit wouldn’t have taken Rayne in, so that one was good luck for him.

Now, instead of being an average kid in a street gang, he was the adopted son of the hottest demon around and learning to use his new powers. That thought brought him back to reality. He had a trial to get ready for. Nezbit had said he would have three to choose from, but he wouldn’t know what they were until he walked into the trial chamber. He had to be ready for anything. Behind his shaggy bangs, his chocolate brown eyes glittered with demonic firelight as he tried to imagine what would be waiting for him.

The door to his right opened and an ugly demon stuck his horned face into the room.
“Rayne,” Belgard grunted, “they’re ready for you.”

Rayne nodded his head and stood up. He kicked a dusty rock with his leather boots and held his jaw firm. Must show strength. He walked through the door beside Belgard and took in the trial chamber.

The room was a giant triangle. The ceiling rose high above them, coming to a point at the top, from which hung what was probably a giant bowl full of fire. At this distance, it was hard to tell. Each of the room’s three corners was a cage. Against the left wall were six stone chairs, in which sat the various demons and supernaturals that would judge his trial.

Three of them were regular demons. Two, a male and a female, had the standard red skin, horns, and tail that mortals see in pictures. The female flicked her forked tongue at him. The other was mostly normal, except for the 6 inches bone spikes rising out of his shoulders and the fact that his left arm ended in a big crab pincher. The other three were mixed supernaturals. One was a werewolf with shaggy fur, long nose, ears, and teeth. Another appeared to be a witch, technically mortal, but probably a high enough ranking witch that she’d been around a couple hundred years or so. The last one matched the description of an earth elemental. He hadn’t seen an elemental in person before. The creature was living rock, dirt, and lava. His features were better described as aspects of landscape than as parts of a body. A fissure in its face opened and it belched noxious gas. The werewolf growled and tried to cover its nose, annoyed. This was not a good start to the trial, Rayne thought.

He glanced at the right hand wall as he walked slowly forward to the center of the triangular room, where he was expected to stand. Seated among a few of his new demon friends and his trainers, was his adoptive father Nezbit. He made no sign that he even recognized Rayne. It was his way. The demon way. You had to be strong enough to stand on your own. Nezbit had black hair with a red tinge to it, and looked handsomely mortal. Handsome enough to charm mortals to their doom. Nezbit may not show it here, at the trial, but he knew he would be pleased by a decisive victory, and much displeased by a defeat. Rayne didn’t want to think about a defeat. He’d narrowly passed the last test, and he knew what three failures would mean.

Rayne reached the small, raised dais in the center of the room and stood facing the six judges, waiting to be addressed. One of his friends had advised him to not even look in the cages until they were brought to his attention. It would signal that he was worried about the test. He wasn’t sure if he agreed with Garthos about that, but better safe than sorry. Better to appear strong, confident.

“Rayne, adoptive demon, today you face the Trial of Decision.” The male horned demon spoke. He must be the Head Judge.

“In this room are three cages.” The female red demon addressed him. “You will choose to enter one of them, and will not emerge until that challenge has been met to our satisfaction. Which
cage you enter is up to you. Choose well.”

“In the cage to our left,” snarled the werewolf, “is a pair of mortals. If you choose this challenge, you must turn them against each other until one is dead.”

Rayne looked at the cage for the first time. Under a blanket at the far corner of the cage were two people, clutched close together. He could see blonde hair spilling out from under the blanket. They appeared to be asleep, but were almost certainly a couple. Rayne sneered at the sleeping duo. Such an event would not even be a test, but a pleasure. His expression shifted through various states of amusement as he pondered the various ways of screwing with their minds and turning them against each other. Convincing the man to kill the girl would be almost too easy. Managing to get her to kill the man would be more of a challenge. He liked challenges.

“In the cage to our right,” cackled the high witch, “is a hellhound. Your challenge there is to master it. Subdue the beast and make it docile to you. If you succeed in this particular challenge, the beast will be allowed to remain with you.”

Rayne’s eyes lit up for that fraction of a moment before he reined his face under control. To have a pet hellhound would be quite a bonus for passing this test! He looked to his left at the hellhound’s cage. The beast was staring back at him. It was a dog in only a very general sense. Its short fur was a deep, blood red on black skin. The glowing red eyes didn’t blink and the center of them gave him a slight shiver. Its teeth curled out around its lower lip and the sliver smoked as it dripped from one tooth onto the floor. On its forehead were two horns that curved inward like deadly scimitars. It’s onyx colored claws were out, and the tips of them were stained with blood. The barbed tail whipped back and forth behind it. It barked once at him, as though showing off, and a spout of flame spat forth. Truly this was a creature to respect- and to own. With that beast by his side, and the powers he was learning, no one would stand in his way. They needn’t go on with the third cage, he’d made his decision.

The earth elemental brought his attention back. Its voice was like rocks being ground into dust, punctuated by boulders being split by dynamite.

“Your third option is not mastery or deception, but pure battle. In the cage behind you is an angel.” Rayne whirled, the hellhound all but forgotten. It was true. Standing in the center of the last cage was a glowing angel. Her wings, white with a fluorescent hint of silver, were curled around her, hiding her body. Above the wings, he could see straight, dark blond hair flowing from under a silver crested helmet. Her bright, gold eyes glared out at him. He glared back.

One of the demons spoke up. Rayne kept his eyes on the angel. “Which challenge will you accept for your trial, Rayne?”

“The winged doll is mine.” Without waiting for confirmation, he started walking toward the cage. His eyes never left the angel, who returned the confident stare motionlessly. Somewhere on the edge of his consciousness, he could hear the trial instructions from the panel of judges.

“You must defeat the angel in battle. She must either surrender or be unable to do so. You may use whatever abilities are at your command, but no outside help will be permitted.”

“I don’t need help to pluck her feathers,” He snarled under his breath. He flicked the fingers of his right hand and flames licked across his knuckles. He reached the locked gates of the cage and snapped his head around at the guard. “Unlock it,” he snapped. The outer gate had the lock built into it. The inner gate, closer to the angel, was chained shut, with the padlock that secured the chain hanging on the outside of the cage.

The lock of the outer gate had barely clicked free before Rayne kicked the metal door open and stepped inside. The guard closed the door behind him and he heard the lock click shut. His eyes were still on the angel, cowering behind her own wings.

“Say your prayers, corpse.”

The angel slowly took a step back, withdrawing into the cage. Just as slowly, she spread her wings and revealed the rest of her body, as well as the long, glowing sword she wielded expertly in one hand. She was clothed in a silver breast plate and a tapered loincloth of white leather straps that hung nearly to her knees in the middle, but was cut almost to her hips at the sides. It was an armor that afforded maximum freedom of movement with a minimum of protection. It also showed a significant amount of her very well-formed body, but all he saw was enemy. She switched the deadly glowing sword from one hand to the other, her knees flexed; her body poised for action.

Rayne smiled, standing between the inner and outer gates. He pushed back the left hand sleeve of his leather jacket. Three large, black spikes rose from the top of forearm and three matching spikes slid down toward the ground from underneath. The sets of spikes grew and curved, meeting at the apex of their arches. A red membrane grew between the spikes, creating a shield on his left arm. He juggled two fireballs in his right.

“Open it.”

The guard turned the key in the padlock and Rayne threw one of the fireballs forward as he kicked the door. The chain rattled through the bars as he rushed forward. The fireball flew through the opening as the gate swung wide, straight for the angel. Rayne was right behind it.
The angel was a seasoned fighter. Long before the fireball reached her, she had taken to the air. It passed harmlessly beneath her and scorched a black mark on the back wall. The cage wasn’t big enough to allow her to fly completely freely, but it did give her enough space to make vertical moves an option.

Rayne had been expecting that. The second fireball went up, and was only a split second behind the first one. The angel dodged to the right and the fireball narrowly missed her wing. Rayne veered to match her and leaped for her legs, intending to ground her. He grabbed one ankle and flared the fingers against her skin. Fire smoked where their flesh touched and the angel howled in rage and pain.

She swung the holy sword in a powerful strike for his arm, but he raised his left arm in defense, and the angelic sword met the demonic shield. He poured on more heat, determined to hobble her. She angled her sword straight down at him and dropped out of the air. They hit the ground hard, with her standing on top of him. Her feet hit his chest and shook his grip loose. He flung his shield into her way just in time to catch the point of the sword driving toward his face. The tip penetrated, which forced him to give up his own howl of pain and anger.

He punched her knee and jerked the shield, with the sword still jammed in to it, to the left. The combination pulled her off balance and she fell to the side. The sword whipped free and clattered across the floor of the cage. Dimly, from far away, he heard cheering. He didn’t care. He rolled to his feet and jumped for the winged angel. She was on her back, wings spread wide. He flung a fireball into the feathers of the wing on the right and landed with one knee on her chest. He grabbed her throat in one hand and found her fingers wrapped around his own throat. She was strong. Stronger than he was.

He tried to force his weight down on her throat, to use the advantage of being on top. She used one wing to knock him sideways and rolled them as a pair, putting herself on top. Now she was the one with the advantage of gravity. He turned on the fire as he tried to tighten his grip on her throat. She shrieked as he burned her skin, but her grip didn’t loosen. He began to struggle for air. The fire between his fingers, without oxygen to support it, began to flicker. He tried to scream at her, but he couldn’t get any sound past her own throttling grip. His vision began to grow dark, and the bars of the cage above them started to glimmer with demon magic. The cage, and the rock walls beyond it, faded from view. There was only the warrior angel at the end of a dark tunnel, his hands around her throat.

Suddenly, Rayne ‘s hand was burning. He jerked it away and opened his eyes, ready to attack the angel with renewed vigor. Instead, he saw the hellhound returning his leg to the ground and walking away from the cage bars. His hand was dripping in burning hot liquid.

“Serves you right.” Standing over him, shaking his head pitifully, was Belgard. “You fought well, but you chose stupid. Never expect to win a fight when you’re fighting yourself.”

Rayne slowly got to his feet. His head felt like a road under heavy construction. “I wasn’t fighting myself. Did you not see that angel chick?”

“You were fighting yourself. You didn’t pick the angel. You picked your own emotions to fight. That’s a losing battle. You should have picked the hellhound. I think he likes you.”

Rayne glanced into the cage and the hellhound growled back at him. Yeah, right. Over Belgard’s shoulder, he could see Nezbit walking out of the Trial Chamber. Rayne didn’t need a demon nanny to tell him he was disappointed.

Rayne glanced at the other cage, the angel’s cage. She was sitting at the back, tending to her injuries. There were black burn marks around her throat. One wing was scorched, maybe useless, but certainly not as effective as it was. One of her legs, exposed from under the wounded wing, was burned badly, too.

“Next time, she dies.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Writer's Toolbox: Novel Stats, Part 2

Every writer needs tools to get the job done. (Yes, pen and paper or laptop, I heard you. Please sit back down, peanut gallery.) I'm not talking about a word processor, or even a thesaurus. Plotting, organizing, scheduling, pacing... our tasks are many and guidelines few. My wife and I have developed and discovered some tools that I use, and I thought I would share what I am using and how I use it. To that end, this is the Writer's Toolbox series.

The last post in this series talked about the Novel Stats spreadsheet, primarily the first page. I did mention some things that would only happen once you had input information on the Chapters tab. I'd like to talk about that today, at least to start.

We're skipping over the Weekly Projection tab to look at Chapters. Chapters is really pretty clear-cut, I think.

You can click on these images for a larger version or, if you would like your own copy of this document to play with as you read this post, it is available here. It'll start blank, waiting for you to fill in the information. The columns are labeled Chapter (this is for the chapter #), Title (The title of your chapter, if you do that- it's an optional thing.), Words is where you put in the number of words in that chapter, and finally the Planner is a very simple Notes section to help you break down your story into chapter-segments.

As you enter word counts into this sheet, the first sheet (Novel Stats) calculates your words/chapter, progress, and such. When you complete a chapter, put the total word count for that chapter in the Words column, and zero out the count in the box at the bottom, "Words completed so far in current chapter." Repeat until published. Or at least until you are done.

Now let's get back to the Weekly Projection tab.
Don't type anything on this page. This is purely information gleaned from the other pages and provided here for your own scheduling information. This page lays out each week of your WIP and lets you know how many words and chapters you should have written at each stage. It also lets you know where you stand and whether or not you are behind.
It also has this awesome little meter to show how far you are ahead or behind your schedule.

On the far right of the tabs, we find the Chapter Scratchpad. This page is virtually empty. It's just a place to help sketch out the flow of the chapter. What events need to happen within the chapter or scene, and make note of details such as POV or characters present. Remember when you took tests in school and were allowed one sheet of scratch paper? That's what this is. There are certainly much more involved plotting techniques and tools. This, like so many things, is only the beginning.

Earlier posts in this series:
Writer's Toolbox: Google Docs
Writer's Toolbox: Novel Stats, Part 1

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hero Games Contest Results

Over the course of the last month, I've been running a contest on the blog for my current Work-In-Progress, Hero Games. The idea behind the contest was to use the wonderful tool Hero Machine to create a hero much like the ones for my main characters that I would then cameo in the story.



It turned out that making the hero, capturing them, and sending them to me was more work than I had realized when I set it up. (I'd have known that if I had taken the time to ask any supervillain about capturing a superhero alive.) So, despite some fantastic promotion from other bloggers (Thank you, Donna) and positive feedback from interested readers, I actually received very few submissions. Even with so few entries, it was difficult to choose from among them.
One entrant even created a nude superhero! Well, almost nude; she was wearing a very nice leather jacket. Perhaps I'll save her for a different genre all together!

I have decided, however, to write a scene for each of the heroes I received and put one or two in the novel, posting the remainder as bonus material. Posted here in this blog entry are the top finalists for the Hero Games Contest. Thank you, one and all, for your willingness to have some fun!
Obviously, the heroes' promotional photos aren't the only thing you need to know to like the hero, but feel free to offer your opinion of the heroes here in the comments, or even to suggest character ideas to include in the scenes! You can click on the images for larger versions

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gods of Justice Review: The Daughter of Nyx

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It's an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn't know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I'll be reviewing them one story at a time in this "Gods of Justice Review series."

The next story in the anthology is The Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom. First, let me say what a wonderful world Kelly Wisdom has created here. Packed full of conflict and angst, with a 1984 dystopian feel to it. We follow the main character, "Vee" (short for Veronica which you don't find out until late in the story) as she deals with a combination of relationship issues and governmental oppression issues, which resonate closely with some self-worth questions. The story builds to a wonderful series of events of self-discovery, along with a not-so-gentle tug on your heart strings.

I have little to say about the plot this time, mostly because it is quite well done and I don't want to ruin it. Suffice to say that Vee is hiding a secret that the government would kill her over, and this keeps her from getting close to anyone. (Does it have your attention yet? I thought so.)

Let's look at this world, which Wisdom reveals slowly, mysteriously. We begin in what feels like a church, during a sermon, but something feels slightly wrong. Soon we realize that it is a church of the government, the Bureau, which advocates following the very strict laws of this society (curfews, missing the Bureau's services, sedition, etc) and pay the "atonement" of any minor infractions. The oppression and control do not stop at the walls of the chapel. THe lower class, which appears to be most of society, are kept poor, and under control, scrapping not only for food, but even for chunks of coal for heat. Much of this world and society is not blatantly painted, but hinted at, as shadows of a story seen through the eyes of our POV characters. This is how a master painter creates a landscape: one horizon at a time, and letting your mind fill in the brushstrokes that aren't really there.

Characterization is actually the one stumbling block that got me as I read this story. It wasn't until page 13 (out of 21) that I finally was certain of the gender of the protagonist. Identified as Vee until then, I had the suspicion of femininity, but not the confirmation. The first person narration, coupled With the roughness of the society, Vee's job as a 'lowly dishwasher,' and the romantic interest between her and Mia, kept me from being certain of her gender. Does it matter? Not too much, the characterization was strong regardless, and Vee's conflicts, both interior and exterior, were well established. However, that question nagged me for those first 13 pages, preventing me from being able to completely immerse myself in the story. It's tough to focus on what is happening when you don't know who you are.

All together, this was a wonderful story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I suspected the plot almost from the beginning, but certain twists caught me by complete surprise. Well done, Kelly Wisdom. Thank you for the pleasure of sharing your world. Read more about and from Kelly Wisdom at www.kelly-wisdom.com

The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban

Monday, July 18, 2011

Writer's Toolbox: Novel Stats, Part 1

Every writer needs tools to get the job done. (Yes, pen and paper or laptop, I heard you. Please sit back down, peanut gallery.) I'm not talking about a word processor, or even a thesaurus. Plotting, organizing, scheduling, pacing... our tasks are many and guidelines few. My wife and I have developed and discovered some tools that I use, and I thought I would share what I am using and how I use it. To that end, this is the Writer's Toolbox series.


This post, I'd like to share the first tab of what we call the Novel Stats sheet. This is a dynamic spreadsheet that my wife and I worked up to help me with scheduling my writing time and tracking my progress. If you would like your own copy of this document to play with as you read this post, it is available here. Check my first post in this series, on Google Docs, for information about how to Save a Copy.


The embedded document above is the template. All the numbers are blank. The images I'm going to show you come from a sample document that I made up, using the same Template shown here. This document is great for keeping me on track with my writing. It lets me know when I am behind schedule and how far I have to go to get on schedule. It's also packed with neat little facts that help me figure out other things, like how long my chapters are, and what kind of deadline I can afford to set for myself. It also has some minimal plotting features worked into it, though I'll show you some more involved and complicated methods later.

I start by hiding that big, yellow banner with the page instructions.
Who needs instructions, right? I do, but I also don't want them in the way when I am trying to work. You hide a row by right clicking the row and choosing Hide row. I just don't want to confuse you when you get the yellow bar on the Template, and it isn't in my Samples.

To begin with, the Novel Stats page is pretty blank. It needs information from you. The only typing you do on this tab is in the green section. (Remember those big, yellow instructions at the top? You didn't read them, did you? This is what they were talking about. Shame, shame.)

We'll talk about the neat gadget on the side in a minute. Focus on the numbers in green, please. The three items in green are "Target Words in Novel," "Target Weeks to Completion," and "Start Date." Under Column B of Target Words is where you put your word count goal. NaNoWriMo's is 50k, so I filled that in for my Sample Novel sheet. It's summer, so I decided to claim 3 months (12 weeks) to write my novel. Then I put in a start date of June 15th.

Once I've filled in those numbers, notice that some of the other areas on the page have magically generated some values. Down at the bottom, the first red arrow I've drawn in the picture, you see that the sheet now knows what week it is. It has calculated based on the deadlines I gave it, what week of writing I should be on and what percentage of the novel I should have written at this point. As you can see by the rest of the document, I haven't written anything in this novel yet, so I'm horribly behind schedule. So far in fact, that it can't yet tell me how far behind I am! The next arrow points out a piece of information for me to use in my time management: I should be averaging 4,167 words/week to hit my goal.

However, with more information, the sheet becomes even more useful! I'll just take a break and go write a little. It said I needed 4k words, right?
OK, *phew!* that was some fast writing. I've plugged my updated word counts into the 'Chapters' tab of the spreadsheet (more on that in the next post). I got 4,062 written; let's see how that compares. You can now see that I finished the first chapter at 3,500 words, and wrote another 562 in the second chapter. The average words per chapter, obviously, is 3,500 because I've only done one chapter. However, using that average, it now tells me how many chapters it expects me to have in the novel. Also, I now know what my percentage complete is, not only for the novel, but also how deep I am in Chapter 2, using the numbers I've given it! These are the numbers reflected in those nifty gadgets on the right hand side of the page. The top one is Novel Completion, which shows how close you are to your total goal, and the lower one is chapter completion, based on your words per chapter average, how close you are to finishing the current chapter. Also, at the bottom of the sheet, you can now see how many chapters (Average word count) you need to write to stay on schedule.

Let's get one more week's worth of writing in before leaving this tab. Let's see, how many times do I turn this stupid time necklace again? ...
... Whoa, sorry I took so long, had a little writer's block. OK, so now I've got over 8,000 words logged into the Novel Stats (again, that's done over on the 'Chapters' tab.) The biggest difference at this point is that I have passed one week's worth of writing being tracked. Thus, it can now tell me how far ahead or behind I am! According to line 24, I am perfectly On Schedule, which shows up in blue.
If you work really hard, you can get Ahead, which reads in green, because you are GO-ing somewhere. (OK, bad pun.)
However, if you don't work hard, and goof off instead, you can get Behind, which glares at you in an angry, neglected, red letters. You shouldn't neglect your word count. You wouldn't like your word count when it gets angry. (No, wait, he turned green when angry. Ok, scratch that whole reference.) Anyways, when I am actively working on a project, this is how I keep myself on schedule. Stay tuned for more from the Writer's Toolbox!

Contest Deadline this week!

I'll have my regularly schedule post in the Writer's Toolbox Series up later today, but first I wanted to remind all of you that the deadline for the Hero Games contest is THIS FRIDAY!

If you are having trouble with it, I posted a "how to" on my blog, also. Go on over and give it a whirl! Everyone who has gone over has reported having fun, so what do you have to lose? Plus, you have something to win!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gods of Justice Review: The Mass Grave of John Johnsons

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It's an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn't know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I'll be reviewing them one story at a time in this "Gods of Justice Review series."

The first story in the collection is The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban. Urban's true strength in this story is the extremely creative (though macabre) ideas he works into the characters, world, and plots.

Most of the setting is presumed to be "Earth normal" and "modern times." A mortician is given the mystery of a mass grave of 44 bodies, and calls upon the county, the state, and even the federal level for assistance. Our first clue that something in this world might be different is the Federal Office of Super Heroes that finally answers his call. Superpowered individuals being licensed and employed by the government isn't part of our status quo. I don't think. Let me check with my CIA contacts on that; I'll get back to you. This is an interesting idea that isn't present even in most of the current superhero dogma. Makes sense, though, and certainly smacks of the way Government works. If it has something to do with power or control, they're going to want to be in charge of it.

The heroes from the FOSH organization have very specific and limited abilities. A team of three arrives to assist the good doctor with his problem. The first of the trio goes by the name WhoDied and has the ability to tell who a body belonged to no matter the state, or how much matter is left. His companions, a girl named Locality and a quiet youth called 4D, can tell where and when a body died, respectively. Without a doubt, these are some unique abilities that have rather specific applications. Coming up with unique super powers, while creative, isn't all a character needs. A character, particularly ones so unusual as these, need their own voices. WhoDied succeeds in this, creating a macabre vision of bland detestation. The simple, matter-of-fact way that he goes about his wretched business makes one's flesh tremble. Locality, on the other hand, mostly serves as narrator to explain subtle points of WhoDied's work and the situation at hand as it unravels to be more mysterious, and devious, than it at first seemed. 4D has almost no character at all, serving primarily as a vehicle to put the feather in the cap of the introductory (primary?) plot.

These characters are weaved in to this setting through the use of three plot lines: the mystery of the 44 dead bodies, the mostly interior-conflict subplot of the main POV character's paternity, and the prevention of the 45th murder. The mystery is handily solved, but the initial action of the story, in fact most of the story, centers on it. The solution of that mystery yields a new plot to follow. These two plots are uniquely twisted, which is wonderful, and their pacing is well done. However, they are each rather simply solved. There feels to be no real challenge to them.

The third plot centers around an internal conflict as to whom the narrator's real father may be. While this plot is worked heavily into the story from the very beginning, and continues until the very end, it feels weak. As I read the story, I was interested in the mass grave, and I cared about preventing the next murder, but the daddy-dilemma didn't matter to me at all. It was an afterthought, a minor character trait. Finally, though we got the answer, it felt obvious and unfulfilling in the end.

I came away feeling as though this story was a bonus, side story taken from a rich, wonderful, interesting world. I felt as though the characters were much deeper than shown here, and that the plots, at least the one about the dad, continued beyond where the story stopped. I hope to find that this story is, indeed, a small taste of a larger world. Meanwhile, it got my feet wet for the rest of Gods of Justice, and I look forward to Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom.

The Rest of the Series:
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom

Monday, July 4, 2011

Writer's Toolbox: Google Docs

Every writer needs tools to get the job done. (Yes, pen and paper or laptop, I heard you. Please sit back down, peanut gallery.) I'm not talking about a word processor, or even a thesaurus. Plotting, organizing, scheduling, pacing... our tasks are many and guidelines few. My wife and I have developed and discovered some tools that I use, and I thought I would share what I am using and how I use it. To that end, this is the Writer's Toolbox series.


There are some great programs out there that I can't yet afford, Scrivener being one I've heard much about and am currently looking into. In the lack of luxury, necessity can breed creativity. (Not sure what that means, but it sounds pretty intelligent and philosophical, right?) Over the past few years, seeing my struggles with organization and planning, my wife has stepped in and helped me find ways to get organized. Utilizing the amazing (and collaborative) free features of Google Docs, we created tools to track and predict word counts for chapters, schedule word count goals based on a deadline, to chart and pace the plot of a novel in progress, and other things. Very little of this is ground-breaking stuff, but I've found it extremely helpful. Since it is free, it's very easy to share what we have made with you.

For this first post, let's talk a little about Google Docs. You'll need that basic understanding to follow many of the other tools in the series, and it's a wonderful resource on its own. I love Google Docs. If you haven't heard of them, they are basically a completely free, online version of Microsoft Office. Spreadsheets and documents and more, I do the vast majority of my work there. I have access to it from any internet connection; I can download it to hard drives, print to pdf, even view it on my iPod. They're great. So, let's look at Google Docs.

Start by going to Docs.Google.Com.
You can also get there by going to Google's homepage, and choosing Documents in the list at the top. If you have Gmail, or use any other Google application, you probably already have a Google account. If not, sign up for one now, it's totally free. Upon signing into Docs, you reach the home screen, which will have a list of all of your documents, and folders(Collections) on the left to help you organize them.

There's a button at the left, under the Google Docs logo, that says "Create new". To start your own work, use that button to Create a new document, spreadsheet, Collection, whatever you want to work in. Once you give it a title, they save automatically, so you don't have to worry much about losing what you've written.



Another great tool in Google Docs, conveniently placed under "Tools," oddly enough, is the Word Counter. So many free-standing word counters on the internet, and this one is built right in. Bonus, it tells you a lot more than just word count for the total piece AND a selection as well! Words, characters, paragraphs, even readability stats!


Now to teach you about copying someone else's work, which is not something I allow in my classroom, but am highly encouraging in this blog series.

In a Google Document, click on File at the top, and choose "Make a copy..." (I know that isn't very intuitive, but work with me here!)
A box will pop up asking you if you want to make a copy of the document and what you'd like to title your copy, and warning you about copying collaborators and such. (It may also pop up without asking you for a new title, in which case the title will default to "Copy of [whatever it was called]." You can do this on any open document (like the templates I'll be giving you) and thus have your own version to use. Isn't Google great? I didn't create Google, I'm just a user. Next post, we'll get to the stuff I not only used, but I also helped design!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Motivations

Yes, I understand that I am dashingly handsome, rich, and a fierce fighter, bent on protection of the weak and striking fear into the hearts of the wicked, but what is my motivation? ~Bruce W.

According to some psychologists, everything we do and are and want has its motivation buried deep within our subconcious. I don't care. I don't like horror movies, and I don't need to know why I don't like them; I'm not watching them. What I do need to know, is why my character doesn't like pizza. Or why my character is a loner. Or why my character is greedy.

There are some traits that you can get away with not having a "reason" for, like being shy, or having blue eyes, but the vast majority of characterization must have a motivation. I'm not saying to include that motivation in your story. Not even the reader deserves to know everything about your characters; let them have a little dignity and privacy. You, however, their author, need to know.

One of the characters in my current WIP is the villain. I know, you never saw that coming, did you? Well, while looking over my notes with my wife, she happened to ask why he steals. I was taken by surprise. What do you mean 'why does he steal?'! He's the bad guy; he's greedy and wants some money!

Stop right there. We have both a problem and a solution in that statement. First, 'He's the bad guy' is NEVER your answer for motivation. That's called a Disney Complex (Sorry, Walt.) The early Disney villains were notoriously flat characters. No depth, no change, no motivation. They were just bad. Those aren't bad characters; that's bad writing. Every character must have depth and motivation. Stock characters (the Hero, the Villain) are no longer good enough.

Second, we have something good from that statement: 'He's greedy & he wants some money.' This is by no means good enough, but it is a start. He's greedy = character trait. He wants money. He doesn't want to save his family from poverty. He doesn't have a drug issue. He isn't trying to steal bread to survive. His top-level motivation isn't survival or necessity, it's money. This is important because you will write him differently based on his motivation. He will behave differently based on his motivation. A thief that is trying to survive by stealing apples and bread is a very different character than one who steals for the kicks of getting away with it. For them, the money or goods aren't even that important. Very different than my character, who wants the money itself. Why he wants, not needs, money (greedy little punk) is where he needed work.

On the one hand, I was a little miffed. What do you mean he needs justification for being greedy and wanting money?? Would you like to drive down to a prison and go ask the offenders about their motivation? Then I realized, it doesn't matter. They don't need to know their motivation; they just need to know how many years they have left on their sentence, or how not to get caught alone with Joey the Shank. I, however, am a writer, and I need to know why my characters do what they do. I need to know why the villain wants money. I need to know why the hero wants to save people. I need to know why the girl dies. I need to know why he's an arrogant SOB, why he stays aloof, and why she's suicidal.

UPDATE: Thanks to @LisaGailGreen on Twitter, I ran across a very interesting site this week that plays right into this post on Motivations! The Character Therapist is an actual, licensed therapist that will take your character and psychoanalyze them to break down their motivations. Isn't that awesome?!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blogfest...Interrupted!

I'm not the only one running contests and competitions! Over on Sash's Secrets, she's running her first BlogFest today. Following is what she asked for, and my entry. I took my entry from On Common Ground. This scene happens shortly after the excerpt that is posted on my site. Enjoy!

On Sunday, June 26th, post a 500-1000 word scene of your characters being interrupted - doesn't matter what they're doing, doesn't matter what's interrupting them (end of the world, knock on the door, little voice in their head...), they just need to be interrupted.



She halted her footsteps as four men wearing blue and black stepped out of that corridor, their eyes locked directly on her. She stole a quick glance back and confirmed her sudden suspicion. There were more men now standing behind her. She had walked right into a trap. She could already see a shotgun as well as a couple of handguns and assorted chains and baseball bats. Grace knew she was in trouble. She lunged for the closest back door, praying it would be unlocked, that she could get through and have a chance at making it to the open street where there would be other people. The gang wouldn't attack like this out there. With one foot extended to her right, hand outstretched for the doorway, other hand clutching her revolver for dear life, she froze. The short, dark skinned man swinging the chain also froze, including the chain. The baseball bat stopped in midair, an inch before slapping into a palm. The leader's finger was already pulling the trigger, but it didn't move.

One thing in the alley did move. A head of wavy, shoulder-length blond hair lifted up and looked around, confused. The stormy blue eyes took in the scene and then looked past it at the auburn-haired man walking toward him. The blond stepped away from the door he had just unlocked and spoke.

“Micheal, what are you doing?”

Micheal shook his wings and smiled gently at the tall golden-skinned blond.

“It's her Time, Gabe. Relock the door." Gabe didn't move. "You've done a good job with her. But it's her Time. Time for you to take another charge. For her to go on to her reward.” Gabe stared at Micheal, still not moving toward the door.

Gabe knew this was not some cruel joke. It was Grace's time to die. The work she had been destined to do had been done. It was over. But it couldn't be over for him. He couldn't accept it this time. He had never argued a Time before.He had never hesitated to let other charges accept their fate and move on to their destiny. But he couldn't let Grace go. He wouldn't.

“Gabe, look at me.” Gabe turned his stormy eyes to the ground. They were even stormier than usual. “We know that she is special to you. We have overlooked your indiscretions. We haven't reassigned you because you were doing a good job. You didn't let temptation get to you. You didn't shirk your duties. You kept a watchful eye and- Gabe look at me!” Gabe looked up solemnly. Micheal stepped closer to him. “You kept a watchful eye and this is good. You did a good job and we haven't faulted you for what happened. But now it is time for it to end. It is her time to die and you must let it happen. “ Micheal reached past Gabe and locked the door. “It is no sin to love, Gabe, but we have a responsibility to the order of life. We have a job to do. That's the way it is, the way it has been, the way it must be. You know this! You're an excellent angel, Gabe. One of our best, if truth be known. Let the woman go.” Micheal reached back and pushed the revolver from Grace's unmoving hand.

As the deadly weapon clattered on the pavement, Gabe looked up, his pale blue eyes taking on a steel tint. His jaw was hard and his fists clenched. “I won't let her go, Micheal. She will do much good. And I do love her.”

Micheal sighed and shook his head. He held his hand out and set it against Gabe's chest. Gabe stiffened and his wide eyes stared in horror and anger at Micheal. Gabe's muscles tensed, but could not move. “You don't have any choice, Gabe. She will die. And yes, you do love her.” Micheal looked at Gabe sadly as he stretched his other hand slowly toward the group of mortals behind him. “I'm very sorry, old friend. But you have been removed from the guardianship of Grace Rayne. You are no longer allowed to give her aid." Micheal turned his eyes away and mumbled under his breath, "And she can never be allowed to have your heart.” Micheal stretched out his fingers and waved his hand to the right, freeing the action of the mortals.

The shotgun exploded as momentum returned to the alley. Grace lunged for the door and screamed as her leg burned and gave way underneath her. Her jeans were soaked in blood almost instantly. The shotgun issued a lazy trail of smoke in the hands of the grinning Highway. “Get her, boys. Teach her not to mess with us.” Grace screamed again as a chain whipped across her back, tearing the fabric of her shirt as well as her skin. Highway knelt beside her and smiled, brushing her hair away from her face so she could look at him. “Remember that kid you sent to jail when he was robbing the convenience store? All he wanted was a lousy fifty bucks and you try to send him up the creek for murder. That was my little brother.” Highway stepped back and crossed his arms as someone else stepped up. Grace looked up and saw brown eyes and a mass of curly hair. His cheeks were smudged with dirt and there was a scrape against one jaw. It was the boy that had dodged through traffic to get to her. The boy that had led her into this trap. The boy whose life she had saved less than an hour before. “This is my other brother. Normally, I'd say he's too young to go for full membership, but, I figure rules are made to be broken, just like bones.” He grinned at the youth holding the baseball bat and the bat came whistling down on top of Grace's shoulder and the side of her head. The audience laughed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Help for the Hero Machine & the Contest

I heard some people were having trouble navigating the Hero Machine while trying to design their entry into the Hero Games Contest. So, below is a short tutorial. Also, I apparently neglected to set an end date for the contest. Your entries must be emailed to me by Friday, July 22nd. Email entries to Contests@davidjace.com.

Guide to creating and submitting entries for the contest:

Go to the HeroMachine website. Under the banner, you'll see the Hero Machine 2.5, which consists of a blue box on the left with the Hero Machine logo, and various buttons and images on the right.

Choose one of the hero body-type sketches by clicking on it. A little box will pop up that offers three loading options.
Unless you have a slow connection, choose the top one, marked 'Complete.' If you do have a slow connection, click the middle one, marked 'Partial.'

Once all the parts have loaded, you have many tools to work with. Let's look at one tool at a time.

Under the number 1, which originally said Pose, is now the word Hair. Click on the arrow beside the attribute Hair, and you get a dropdown menu of all the available attributes. Whichever one you choose, the selection window will populate with those choices. Choose hair, and you get lots of hairstyles; choose Belt, you gets lots of different kinds of belts. You get the idea.
Directly under the Attribute Selection (Hair, Skin, Belts, etc) is the Genre drop down. By default, it shows Standard, but you can see other options (fantasy, capes, monsters, etc) by clicking the arrow.

Choose a style from the various choices available (the little slider bar under the pictures shows you more options). Each time you click one of the pictures, your hero will be updated. You can also switch between hero attributes by clicking on the hero in the blue box at the left.
That attribute will light up in green when you do so.

As you add attributes to your hero, you will most likely want to color them. The color box at the bottom is your tool for this. Clicking the left hand box under 3. Color Items will color your highlights. The right-hand box will add the main color. Not all items will use both colors.

Explore the various options. This creator has a ton of them. Once you've got your hero the way you want them to look, click in the box at the bottom that says Character Name and give them a cool Super Hero name.

Now, this is the part that gets a little tricky. You can't just click Save. It won't actually do you any good. It'll give you a code that you can save in a text file, and return to this site to Load in. Do save the code, just in case. What I want you to do, however, is use your Print Screen button on your computer. It might read 'Print Screen' or 'PrntScrn' or even 'prt sc'. It is usually close to the home and delete buttons right around backspace and beside the F-keys. When you use that button, it won't actually tell you that you've done it right. Annoying, I know. Open a simple program like Paint (It's in accessories, if you've never used it.) and press Ctrl + V on your keyboard. That will paste the image into the paint program.

If you'll look in that black box I've outlined at the top of that image, you'll see the only two tools you need to use. Select, which is turned on by default, and then Crop, right beside it. Click on Select to start a new selection, then click and drag on the image to put a box around the section you want to keep (just your Hero's image in the blue box, including the name), and then click Crop. Save the file at the very top, and then email it to me at Contests@davidjace.com. (If this is absolutely too much for you, you can click the Save button on the Hero Machine and send me the code. I promise not to be mad. ;) )

I hope you have fun with this, and I can't wait to see your entries! If you have heroes you don't want to enter, but would like to share, feel free to paste them (or the code) into the comments of the Contest post. If you do have any other questions, please feel free to comment them here, or ask me on Twitter.