Friday, May 17, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Great World-Building Shows Promise

For the Killing of Kings, by Howard Andrew Jones (St. Martin’s)

The best thing about this book is the world-building, which the author has clearly put a great deal of care and thought into, at least for the central realm and its main characters. Especially in the beginning, it reminded me of Sherwood Smith’s wonderful Inda books with the sense of long-established institutions, complex relationships, and history.  The opening sequence, with the discovery that a legendary sword is missing and a well-constructed forgery substituted in its place of honor, engaged me right away.

Gradually I became less enchanted with the story. Too many characters, especially the antagonists, did and said things that were ill-thought-out or downright incompetent. Denevan, who has risen to a position of power and authority as chief of the ultra-elite Alternen, has the emotional maturity of an adolescent, still nursing old petty jealousies. I much prefer villains on a more majestic scale, capable of greatness. Neither Denevan nor Mazakan, king of the invading Naor, fits the bill.

My favorite character was the brilliant, if somewhat distracted mage, Varama, who’s always a step ahead of everyone else but gets lost as other, less intelligent characters end up bashing their way through the violent climax. For me this was a major disappointment. Varama was akin to this world’s Sherlock Holmes, putting together otherwise-overlooked details to perceive patterns. I’m sure she would have come up with an elegant solution to Denevan’s power play and the invasion of the Naor. Speaking of the Naor, their only purpose in life seems to be to invade, pillage, and so forth, in order to make the central characters look noble. I never discerned any reason for their belligerence.  In fact, it seemed at the opening that a mutually beneficial peace might lead to some interesting politics, jockeying for trade advantages and so forth. The only explanation seems to be because evil invaders (hint: “piles of skulls” = seriously nasty folks) are required for a big battle or three.

I wish the author had put as much thought into the causes of war and its creative resolution, and valuing science/intelligence over military prowess, as he did into the rest of the world-building. Such a rich world and array of characters might have served up a truly memorable story, but this one is only pretty good.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Story Sale!

I've sold a novelette, "Many Teeth," to Sword and Sorceress 34. Since this will be the final volume in that series, I considered what I've always wanted to put into a story involving swordswomen and/or sorceresses. So many elements and permutations have already been done many times, but I've always wanted to stick a dinosaur into a sword and sorcery story. (Maybe that's been done many times, but not by me.) I remembered an image that came to me while watching the first Jurassic Park movie, as the humans are menaced from several directions by velociraptors (never mind that the real velociraptors were turkey-sized). I thought, "I wonder what a skilled swordswoman wielding a katana could do in that situation."

I jokingly called this story, "Red Sonja in The Land That Time Forgot." Its real title during  writing was, "The Rescue of One-Eyed Wanda, or Many Teeth." That got shortened.

I should add that when my husband, who is often my first reader, finished, he wanted more-more-more. So perhaps, in my copious spare time, I will enlarge it into a novel...

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

New Story on Curious Fictions

"Storm God," a short, fun story from Sword and Sorceress is now available free on Curious Fictions.

This was one of my first professional short story sales and a delight to write. Ideas for horrible things that might lay in wait for anyone foolish enough to cross a swamp just kept popping into my head. And of course, who could resist putting an iconic tale into a new setting?

A tidbit:

Dov made good time through the morning, keeping to the threadwork of game trails that laced the Marshes. She had no difficulty avoiding the patches of quicksand with their coats of light earth and certain, sucking death. The sun rose higher, pale through thickening clouds. Desolate though the swamp might appear, it teemed with subtle, carnivorous life, no place for the unwary.
She glimpsed a werefox curled near some brierbushes. Its whimpering, pitched to lure a predator to its end, aroused her pity at first. It looked exactly like a small wounded animal as it regarded her with bright, pleading eyes, its poison sucker-pads carefully hidden beneath furry sides. She laughed at its pretentious vulnerability and went on her way.
The whip-plants were another matter. She had just finished eating her midday meal, sitting on a patch of salt-grass and congratulating herself on the excellent time she had made. Descending from the hummock, her ankle turned on the slippery grass, and she stumbled into a tangle of branches. It took her a moment to realize the grip on her arms and hair was not accidental. By then she was firmly held.
Dov lashed out at the bramble with a booted food.
“You idiot plant, let go of me!” The pliant vines curled around her, tough and resilient, well beyond her strength to break. She felt a slight, irresistible pull toward the central trunk.
“Of all the stupid –” she gasped. Just when things were going so well, to be eaten by a plant!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Print Release: Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life

Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life

A cup of inspiration, a dash of understanding, a bouquet of wisdom for writers new and old. From the desk of writer and editor Deborah J. Ross comes a collection of warm, insightful essays on “the writing life” – from getting started, negotiating with the Idea Fairy and creating memorable characters, to writing queries, surviving bad reviews, dealing with life’s interruptions and creative jealousy, to nourishing yourself and your creative muse. With space for personal notes.

This collection of my blog posts over a number of years ranges in topic from writing craft to daily rhythms and self-care to staying motivated over the long haul of a career. A number of readers asked for a print version so they could jot down their own notes. It's available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookstore through Ingram (ISBN 978-1-61138-757-5)

To whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from the introduction by Mary Rosenblum, and table of contents:

This collection of essays guides you through the craft and career of writing with all the useful information of a shelf full of ‘how to’ books, but offered with the warm personal energy of a conversation across the kitchen table.  
From her advice on how to actually get started,  her craft and career tips, to her really excellent counsel on how to survive writing in real life and still nourish yourself and your spirit, this collection offers an in depth look at what it means to be a writer.  
 Every day. All the time.  
While Deborah’s career has been New York oriented, most of what she has to say works for today’s author going the small press or Indie route as well. She speaks of the things that helped her succeed or got in her way with a refreshing personal honesty that invites us to examine our own behaviors.  There’s a lot here for any aspiring writer who takes his or her craft seriously. No matter what you write or how you publish.  
Read it, learn, and enjoy! You’ll come away nourished. 

Just You and a Blank Page
Getting Started in Writing
Negotiating with the Idea Fairy
Warm Ups
Open Here
More On Story Beginnings
Structure, Shape, and Interest
Do You Outline Your Novel? Should You?
Dream A Little Dream
It’s Only Fiction
Not Just Another Funny Forehead: Creating Alien Characters
Villains, Evil, and Otherness
Revenge and Retaliation
First Person Perils

Friday, May 10, 2019

Short Book Reviews: A Jewish Homeland in Kenya

Unholy Land, by Lavie Tidhar (Tachyon)

I never quite settled into this highly praised novel. I really wanted to like it, but found myself reaching for something else to read. The review in Publisher’s Weekly said, “Fantasy Award winner Tidhar (Central Station) will leave readers’ heads spinning with this disorienting and gripping alternate history,” and I think that’s an accurate description of my experience. I could never tell which of many connected alternate worlds I was in, or sometimes which character’s point of view I was in.

On the positive side, I loved the premise: in another world, the Jewish people find a homeland in the early part of the 20th Century, not following the horror of the Holocaust. And not in the Middle East but in Africa, in Kenya. As in modern Israel, where Palestinians are exiled from the lands they have lived in for millennia, Africans are relegated to the other side of the (literal) wall and systematically disenfranchised. I appreciated the evocative parallels between this African Palestina and the modern American immigration debate or Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Our guide to this world is pulp fiction writer Lior Tirosh, returning home (to Kenyan Palestina) from Germany. At first the story reads like a murder mystery, alternating Lior’s discovery of a body (and so forth) with the first-person narrative of a police officer. However, the initial mystery is quickly superseded by others, eventually centering on the breakdown of the barriers between alternate worlds. That’s a pretty tall order for one book, and I found the switching of worlds and viewpoints (third, first, and even second, which just knocked me out of the story every time) to be confusing rather than intriguing.

Others may find Unholy Land to be a brilliant tour de force, but for me it was frustrating to be repeatedly baffled and to be thrown out of the story line just when things were beginning to make sense.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything about it. Although chocolates might be nice.