Thursday, December 27, 2012

Editing; Professional Help or Not

When I set to revise my first novel, A Mage's Power, I resolved that I would do my own editing. I didn't want to pay hundreds of dollars for someone to do something that I could do myself. It made me feel lazy. Also, I didn't want to wait for them to get to and then finish my manuscript. Finally, I notice story elements that can be improved when I edit myself which is something an editor would not notice because they lack my background on the story. (See my post on "Useful Problems" for more information). As I do a third "Absolutely the Last Revision" I'm considering changing my policy for the sequel.

Time and again I am amazed by the errors I can miss. Double Double words; words in places the wrong; words that (are) missing, and words that the are unnecessary. It truly blows my mind when I find such errors in my manuscript and confirm that such errors exist in earlier copies of the same chapters. I don't know if it's my familiarity with the material that is the problem, my tendency to skip along so I can continue writing or both. It makes me want to pull my hair out.

After I publish A Mage's Power (it will published no latter than New Year's, by the way) I will begin revision work on the sequel, "Looming Shadow". Once I get the story where I want it I will likely find an editor to correct the errors listed above.

One thing is for sure: I will be aware of sticky keys, especially the 't'.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"The Iron Ring" of Adventure and Deconstruction

I finished "The Iron Ring" by Lloyd Alexander the other day. It's about this Indian King who has a dream where he bets his life to a stranger and losses it. Thus begins his adventure to this stranger's kingdom to make good on his debt. On the way his ideas about karma and honor are deconstructed and he has to adjust what he's believed all his life.

The book has a great opening; the stranger arriving in extravagant style. The clashing of egos as the game begins and escalates is page turning. I was hooked by the time it ended. This is crucial for any book; if the reader doesn't like the first pages or (if they're generous) the first chapter, they're not going to finish the book.

 The rest of the book is equally engaging. Tamar is an honorable and straight-forward king; his companions couldn't be more different and their dialogue is a wonder.  One is a wise old scholar and another is an eccentric scholar of a vague age because of his mysticism. A third is a cowherd with a sharp tongue and a fourth is a mischievous monkey. Then there are others like a fellow king whose tragedy makes him a foil for Tamar.

The main action of the plot is Tamar's group aiding this prince against the villainous Nanusha who stole his throne. Despite being of the warrior's caste he follows none of its rules and this is the reason for the deconstruction mentioned above. Tamar follows all the rules as if they were physical laws; his repeated humiliation at Nanusha's hands shows how this is foolishness. Eventually his pragmatic love interest shows him reason; the only way to win is to beat him at his own game. Tamar emerges victorious by distinguishing the difference between honor and naivety.

I can only find one thing wrong with this book; the red gem that Garuda looks for and the reason he joins Tamar's group. At the end it's revealed to be a magic item that can kill anyone or raise the dead, and that the stranger cast it away because he felt himself tempted by it's power. There are two issues I have with this.

1. Unnecessary
For the bulk of the story it is simply a beautiful rock. Also, aside from talking animals there are few fantasy elements up to his point.  Adding such power to the gem at such a late point is like sticking a plane's wing on a car; it looks weird.
2. Dangerous
Why throw it away if it was so dangerous? A demon almost gets their hands on it. The internal logic would run smoother if the stranger had simply asked Garuda to find a gem that was already out there.

Other than that it's an outstanding book.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Iron Ring" an A.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Answering Review Request "Tainted Dawn"

Barbara Peacock asked me to read her novel "Tainted Dawn" which takes place in Europe during the yeas 1792-1815. It stars Edward, an English bastard of a ship captain, Jemmy, the only son of a poor English family, and Louis, a french revolutionary and son of a tailor.

It starts out well enough but sours quickly. Since I became a volunteer book reviewer there has only been one book that I had to force myself to finish. This is the second one.

A better name would be "Tainted Daddy Issues". All the protagonists are dominated by bad relationships with their fathers and since there is no plot these issues dominate the story.

1. Louis participates in the October Days and his father's servant blackmails him for silence. After he losses everything, his dad finds out and disowns him. With nothing left but his ideals he runs to his mentor/father figure and quarrels with him. Then he's pulled by friends to the Indies and projects his father onto the plantation owner he works for, seeing him as another 'little big shot'.  He defies him and is punished by him for the same reason; ramble rousing.  Instead of advocating equality he advocates hatred of Englishmen.

2. Edward thinks of nothing but making his late father (who has never seen, let alone met) proud and later projects this relationship onto the captain of the Blanche.  In between he is mistreated by a third captain.  That section might as well read 'Edward is insulted and hit with a stick' over and over again because that is all that happens. There is no further plot or character development. It didn't need to go on for so many chapters.

3. Jemmy runs away from home to get away from an unappreciative father but runs back to him because he had a dream of him being hung. This means deserting the royal navy and bringing more trouble to an already troubled family which makes his father even more dismissive of him. Everything this boy does relates to his father in some way.  
Miss Peacock confuses character arc for story arc for there is no over-arching plot or plot thread connecting her three protagonists. There is only the three of them and their daddy issues. The chapters are spliced together without rhyme or reason other than 'alternate every time'. This destroys the purpose of cliff hangers because the suspense is gone. It breaks the build up and disperses the development of story. It's like taking a bite from a hamburger only to have it pulled away and given something else which is also pulled away after a bite. It's frustrating. More than that, it leads to confusion about what's going on because three separate stories are intertwined. Some chapters are about different people entirely and only peripherially related to the three.  

1. Edward and Jemmy overlap at first because they're on the same ship but have nothing to do with each other. After Jemmy leaves, they do not reunite nor influence each other.

2. Edward and Louis do not meet again until the last arc of the book. It breaks my suspension of disbelief that they could remember each other after months of separation and difficult times because they had a brief over a petty incident.

3. Jemmy and Louis never met after the first chapter. Their stories are entirely separate. They might have seen each other if Jemmy was indeed part of the pirate group at the end but one would think Peacook would bridge such a jump from 'running from the law in the English countryside' to 'priating ships near Spanish colonies'. Louis could have done his 'all men are equal' spiel to the boy who just got burned by 'the quality' to justify the piracy and in the process learn that not all Englishmen are evil.
I feel as though she wrote three separate stories and then shuffled the chapters together to increase the work's length. She would have been wiser to write an anthology.
There is no resolution. Even though all three of them are fictional characters none of them get a resolution. Louis is shipped back to France with the same ideals and mindset; no change. Edward is still in a precarious 'sent/forced home' situation because his mother doesn't want him at sea.  Jemmy is last seen running through the countryside with Nan; a fugitive from the law. He plans to go to New York but Edward's section says he died in a Spanish colony helping pirates. Does Beacook mean to imply that he was doing pirate work to pay for passage? If so, what about Nan?
One special note. This is a historical novel but Jemmy's 'future seeing dreams' are vital to his third of the story. Without it he never would have gone home and instead stayed on the ship and so he wouldn't serve as the unwitting cause of his father's death.  I cannot tolerate such a plot device, especially when there aren't any other supernatural elements. The sailors don't mention Davvy Jones or mermaids or sailor superstitions!
There is one redeeming aspect; history. If one considers these not characters, presay, but instead character-actors playing for the time period than their personalities and their stories are less important than the events they witness and the ideas they represent. I am a history buff, indeed, that's the reason I decided to read this book in the first place. Seeing the history on the ground level, so to speak, is a different perspective than historical texts and can justify some of the stupider things the characters do.

Unless you are a history buff you will not like this book.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Tainted Dawn" a D

Click here for the next review request: Song at Dawn

Click here for the previous review request: Jake Johnson and the Halfbloods


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Literary Innovation Is Not Always Good

"Innovation for its own sake will run you into a tree"

I have little patience for writers who think they are original.  If you've been following my blog recently you'll know that I don't believe in literary originality (not the 100 percent kind anyway) so I've come to see it as a novice trait to claim originality. If you believe you are original, TV Tropes will prove how wrong you are. Every once in a while I see someone desperate to prove they are original by doing something weird. To illustrate this I will use a book I started last night and stopped after twenty pages.

I won't say what it's called because this post is going to be negative and I believe one must earn the right to trash a book by finishing it. I could not finish it.  I could not stand it.  I put it away and started a new book that night. The praise on the front page should have sent red flags, "brave, original" when the premise sounded like straight forward fantasy fare. 

The summary in a nutshell: "A supernatural force invades a small town that is a supernaturally special place. A girl with the power to revive the dead is tested morally and logically." Not too terribly original now is it? The book opened with some girls finding a dead body on the beach; good so far. The chapter ended with a girl saying something mystical in 'the language of flowers'; also good. I expected some exposition in the next chapter but that's where it got weird.

The second chapter is a different setting and different characters; a housewife complaining about not having a career like her teacher friend while parts of a journal (which she may or may not be restoring) are spliced in between the paragraphs. The third chapter cuts off again; a police report. It looked like the following
8:38 Crime X
8:50 Event C
9:24 Person A arrives for shift
It was one page and the next chapter began. It was another single page that sounded more like a leaf from a philosopher's journal than a third person narration novel. The next chapter was about a bear and the man who left a jar of honey in his trash can for the bear to eat.

It was incomprehensible. It reminded me of the modernist works I had to read when I was in college. Those were so pretentious and absurd I yanked my hair plowing through them. Yet I was determined to reach page twenty because I wanted to give this author the benefit of the doubt. It was misplaced. The events of the opening pages were forgotten. I can only assume that this author was going for a 'sum is greater than the whole of its parts' thing with all the disjointed events and themes. To me it was a disorganized mess.

In my opinion, the author would have been wiser to follow a conventional route. Action Prologue (finding the guy on the beach) followed by the introduction and development of The Protagonist (who is she is, the origin of her powers, etc) and then some form of conflict (the outsider mentioned on the back cover premise). I would have liked that. After reading I would have used this post to say how much I liked it. Instead I'm using it to illustrate the problem of meaningless innovation.

Whatever you choose to do with your book is fine but at some point it has to match what is on the back cover/inside flap.  Otherwise you will confuse readers. They will become angry at the waste of time and money. I thought twenty pages was plenty generous so I put it back on the shelf.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Inspirational Monday: Tvtropes

The first monday of every month is Inspirational Monday and today I'm going to share TvTropes. It's a wiki that catalogues and analyzes conventions in storytelling. Despite that description it's "boatloads" more informal than Wikipedia. I have something of a love/hate relationship with it. On the love side it provides lots of information in a engaging way and can help a writer build ideas. On the hate side, it sucks up my free time and I feel compelled to revise it because it is a wiki and I can.

TvTropes has an infinity of tropes (even after years of going there I haven't seen them all) and new ones are still being crafted. Along with those tropes are an infinity of works across all mediums. It will dispel any illusion you have to originality. This is why I believe it is a site that every writer should visit at least once; never again will you believe you are original. This is something every writer must learn. You are not original; you are standing on the shoulders of giants. (which, by the way, is not an original phrase but I like it so I used it.) With the limited time one has to write and watch, etc, one may think that 'Oh this idea must be original because I've never seen it before!' Then you go to Tvtropes and see a 200+ works (depending on the trope) that have that same idea. It may not be exactly the same idea but it will be so close that you can't claim to be original.  This is a liberating feeling because you don't have to worry about being original and can instead have fun playing with the tropes and inserting shout outs.

TvTropes is a community of storytelling. It has authors and readers gushing and complaining about works and tropes. This is fun to read but also practical; one can see what readers like and dislike. It's also a great place to proof read without having to write something first. Not that there's major spelling or grammar errors but more about being concise. There is a problem on TvTropes about exaggeration and word cruft etc and therefore practice for being concise in one's own work.

TvTropes is a gateway drug. It will point you towards new shows/books/games etc that you might not know of otherwise. I've found more than a few great series this way that are now on my shelf. A well developed works page is a sign of a large fan base,  or at least, one dedicated fan. I may be that one for I am a Book Reviewing Troper.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Answering Review Request: 'Jake Johnson and the Half Bloods"

James Warburton's mother asked me to read her son's book: Jake Johnson and the Half Bloods. His mother had to do because he is nine years old. This is likely his first attempt at writing fiction and so I will score it as such.

 "Jake Johnson and the Half Bloods" is old school high fantasy. There are semi divine children who use magic weapons to fight monsters and smite evil. I've read that sort of thing before but who cares? It's remarkably engaging. More importantly, there are no pretensions to originality which I find refreshing. Too many authors strive for a myth like 'originality' instead of making use of classical myths like this one.

On another level I enjoyed it because it's nostalgic. It reminds me of the kind of thing I'd write about when I was that age. Reading it made me smile. The biggest difference is grammar and spelling; at that age mine weren't as good.

It is twenty one pages long. This makes it compact and lays a bigger claim to 'fast paced' and 'action packed' than others I've read as a volunteer book reviewer. Also, there is a beginning, middle, and end. One would think that would be self-evident but some want to be 'innovative' by leaving cliffhangers when all it does is irritate. The ending here is what we call on TvTropes 'The Adventures Continues": the book ends with the start of Jake's next mission.

Considering this is a nine year old's first effort, it's amazing. If he refines his skill he'll become a splendid author.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Jake Johnson and the Half Bloods" an A

Click here for the next review request: Tainted Dawn

Click here for the previous review request: Predation

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Trapped On Draconica blog tour: The Geography of Draconica

Hello all and welcome to the next stop on the Trapped On Draconica blog tour!  If you've been following my blog you'll know I've reviewed this book before. You can read it here but for now I have something else for your enjoyment. Today Dan Wright is here to talk about the geography of Draconica.

1. Did the dragons name the world 'Draconica' or did the humans name it that in honor of the god-like role the dragons served in shaping it?

Good question! The early versions of the humans on Draconica were actually fairly primitive creatures (similar to cavemen or similar), so the dragons named it Draconica, kinda out of arrogance. But it made sense that they would name it as they created it.

2. According to the map, Draconica is a cluster of Island Nations but in the story flight and teleportation are used more often than boats. Is this because humans relied on dragons for transportation?

Not really. It just so happens that in Trapped on Draconica, we mainly focus on the Dragonkin and the Baalarian Empire (who have the powers you mention). Boats and ships do exist and are the primary form of travel – but some countries also have zeppelins that act as a sort of airport for some countries (this was created by the Republic of Garmany, who are a technologically advanced culture). So boats and that lot do exist as transportation, it’s just not talked about much in Trapped on Draconica.

3. Daniar says that 'the only memories we have of that once great race are of brutality and bloodshed.' Are the dragons the reason that Draconica is a cluster of islands?

You’re not actually too far off with this. There used to be this sea dragon called Nar-Gar, who was known for violent temper tantrums and attacking lands for no reason. Draconica was originally just one big island, but Nar-Gar would launch ferocious attacks against it, splitting the land into many pieces. Eventually, the other dragons had Nar-Gar killed so that he could not do much more damage, but the land had been split because of it. That’s how the islands came to be.

4. Baalaria was named after the dragon Baala, correct? Did he serve any other role in shaping the region and/or the country?

Yes that is correct. In actual fact, Baala was the dragon that taught Draconica about warfare after visiting Earth during the time of the Roman Empire. He created the Baalarian Empire and taught Draconica about warfare – but he was by no means an evil dragon. His teachings explained that war should be about honour and discipline, not killing in cold blood. In fact, for many years, Baala was an ambassador for war and no country could go to war without his say so – and without just cause.

This changed when his brother Leoni (founder of the Leonidan Kingdom) challenged his rule as he had conflicting opinions about warfare. They started a bloody war (known on Draconica as The War of the Brothers), which ended in both of their deaths. However their followers have continued this war for several years. Sadly, there is now no ambassador for war in Draconica, so countries can go to war without needing permission.

5. Is there a swamp dragon responsible for the Venomac Swamp? Or the vortex mentioned on the map? Is the answer to either of these spoilers for the next book in the series?

I think I can give you answers to this without too many spoilers.

For Venomac Swamp, it was actually created by Venomac, a dragon who was reviled by even his own kind. He was an ugly and deformed creature that everyone was cruel to, but Arkana, The Forest Wyvern, took pity on him and became his friend. However, Venomac mistook this for love and ended up stalking her, until Arkana became frightened for her own life and rejected him. Infuriated, Venomac breathed poisoned breath over her most beautiful forest land, corrupting it and turning into a vile swamp. Arkana was so devastated by this that she took her own life. What happened to Venomac isn’t clear, but the swamp is a grim reminder of his terrible wrath.

The creation of The Vortex is a little long-winded but I’ll try and cut it down. Essentially, when life of Draconica first existed, they used magic in their everyday life, as a suggestion by the dragon Kerrigal (who first discovered magic). However, magic in its rawest form is unpredictable and not easy to control, so Dronor taught the people of Draconica about science, helping them to use the resources of the planet and not rely on powers they did not understand. But Kerrigal became angry at his teachings being challenged and fought with Dronor. During a battle over the sea, he used his powers to create The Vortex in the hope that it would destroy his enemy – but it backfired and he got sucked in, presumably destroyed.

From then on, The Vortex was like a "no-go" area of the planet, as if you get too close you get sucked in. No one knows exactly where The Vortex leads to – but without giving too much away it will play an important part in a later Draconica novel.

6. Tell us about Skycrack Mountain. It is described as the most unreachable place in the world yet one can hear of events on other islands from the wind. There one can enjoy perfect solitude and yet stay informed of current events. Has it ever been used as a hermitage?

In actual fact, only Rana can do this because she has extraordinary hearing. Because the mountain she lives up is so high up in the air, she can hear the whispers carried in the wind. She is the only one to really take hermitage there.

Skycrack as a mountain range is unreachable due to the violent thunderstorms and heavy winds that constantly barrage the area. It’s a dangerous place to live and only the hyppagryphs of Draconica can seem to live there without any danger. Originally, it was the home of Karana The Storm Drake, and many believe that a part of his soul still lingers there, hence why the storms are so violent on that part of the world.


You can find out more info about the world of Draconica on the Trapped On Draconica Wiki.

Author Bio
Dan lives in the UK, his hometown being Canterbury, Kent. A huge fan of both Fantasy and Manga, he has a style that combines both within his writing, which lets him tell stories that are both dramatic and tongue-in-cheek at the same time. Dan also runs his own website, blog and even a wiki page that goes into detail of the world of Draconica. He is also a book reviewer, which he does independantly and on his website Read2Review. Authors who have inspired Dan are Douglas Adams, J.R.R Tolkien, Harlan Ellison, Alan Moore, Joss Whedon and Hiromu Arakawa.

Contact Dan via the following links:



TWITTER: @PandragonDan


Where to buy Trapped on Draconica;

Amazon US Kindle:

Amazon US Paperback:

Amazon UK Kindle:

Amazon UK Paperback:


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Answering Review Request: "Predation"

Simon Parkinson asked me to review his novel "Predation" and I've spent the last two weeks or so reading it. It's a hard science fiction space opera that pits the human Federation Space Fleet Nine against the lizard-like Drakk'Har Alliance on the planet Mindon-2.  I had difficulty rating this book because its strengths and weaknesses are the same things. What follows is the pro and con of World Building, Characters, and Plot and how I both liked and disliked all three.

World Building: Pro
I've said it once and I'll say it again; I love world building. Creating a fictional reality that the reader can immerse themselves in requires thought and detail and research. No one can accuss Mr. Parkinson of not including those in his story. He will explain how the ships work, the support system behind the military, the reasoning for the weapons, the enviorment in full sensory detail, etc.  I particularly enjoyed the Drakk'Har society from a anthropolgic point of view. While other stories have some Always Chaotic Evil race that everyone acknowledges as such with nothing more to it, Mr. Parkinson addresses this view point in Geneva Convention level detail.

World Building: Con
There is a reason why tropes such as Techno Babble and It Runs On Nonsensoleum exist: the author wants to get to the meat of the plot without dragging down the plot. Most of "Predation" is mechanics and protocol and other things delivered via Omniscient Narration. A space battle is interrupted so Mr.Parkinson can give a several page history of the human's development of hyperspace technology and why ships must travel to the edge of solar systems before using it. While the point of the lecture is relevant to the event it interrupts, it didn't have to be so long and frankly it sounds arrogant because it calls a number of real life theories wrong and posists its own. If it were my novel I would have put it at the back of the book in a 'notes' section.

"Predation" has a ensemble cast; there is no main character. On TvTropes we call these kinds of characters 'mauve shirts' because they have enough characterization to avoid a meaningless death in the name of action and instead receive a meaningful death in the name of tragedy.

Characters Pro
Despite being mauve shirts, the humans of the Fredation have enough sustanance to stand on their own. Jefferson, for instance, is a sneaky soldier, a calm sniper and also a prankster. Compared to other characters, she gets enough screen time to be a 'semi-main character'.  She, alongside Perkins, is my favorite character.
Also, because of the ensemble nature, Mr. Parkinson can move to all areas of Space Fleet Nine. There are scenes with the Marshal on the command deck, with squad/platoon officiers talking to the men under their responsibility, with the engineers in the landing bay, with the field commanders in their special moving HQ, and with Special Forces doing their intel thing. In this way, Space Fleet Nine itself becomes a composite character.
Like I said earlier, I liked learning about the Drakk'Har culture. The ritualized arrogance, differences in living, and other culturel nodes were more interesting than the humans and their stoic protocols.

Characters Con
Because they are mauve shirts it's hard to get attached to characters and if one doesn't care about the characters than one doesn't care about what happens too them i.e. the plot. A ship crash that doomed a couple guys is a downer but with the focus spread over the entire fleet the effect is minimized vs a decoy main character. In a sense they're like chess pieces; one does not mourn a pawn unless its loss endangers the rest.  I didn't have any big concern during the battles unless a handful of characters, like Jefferson for instance, were involved and even she took one hundred pages or so to get to that point. 
While the Drakk'Har culture is interesting, its characters are not. They are so similar (because of their Always Chaotic Evil nature) that they bleed together. The only way I could tell them apart was by their rank. Grunts did not have names or roles; they're mooks.  More importantly, their culture as a whole is so steeped in treachery I couldn't believe they worked together long enough to create a galaxy spanning empire and if they could, why it didn't implode in on itself.

Plot Pro

Space Fleet Nine's mission is laid out near the start: a clear and straight forward military expedition. I apperciate that Mr.Parkinson didn't include any intrigue or late game twist in accordance with the Unspoken Plan Guarante; that would have made the book dreadful. The humans go there, have some excitement along the way, and then implement the plan as described at the start of the book. The plot picks up here because the action starts up and there is little exposition left. Indeed, the second half of the book is much better than the first.  The plot focuses on Hill 170 so the characters there get more focus and by now have coalest into engaging characters. When he's not explaining the Hawking Zone, Mr. Parkinson can write a suspensful battle. Ch.22 "Swarm" is amazing in this regard. Most important of all, the initial conflict is resolved. There is no cliff hanger. The war goes on but this particular mission is resolved.

Plot Con

Two major problems: 1.)  exposition and 2.)  Suspension of Disbelief.
From the time Space Fleet Nine enters the Mindon system to their arrival at Mindon-2 the plot is bogged down in exposition and protocols and general minutia of military life. This is addressed with the phrase "hurry up and wait" and the saying that military life is 'hours of boredom separated by seconds of intense fear' but I don't want to read about bored soldiers. Unless it's a comedy but that's another issue.
As I said in 'Characters Con' the Drakk'Har spend more time and energy scheming against each other than fighting the humans. Whenever they encounter humans they are defeated or outwitted. It was hard for me to believe that the humans had been fighting a lossing war for the last three years because of this. While it is to some extent justified by the humans not knowing exactly how to fight them (for instance, they didn't know the Drakk'Har grew their ships in giant tubes instead of building in factories and so their early raids did little damage to the Drakk'Har war machine) I expected something more for such an important target. This breaks my suspension of disbelief which cheapens the human victory and denigrades the plot as a whole.

Without a doubt Mr.Parkinson gets an A for effort but an overall score is more difficult. For the problems listed above I'm tempted to give it a D but for the successes listed above I'm tempted to give it a B. I'll settle in the middle.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Predation" a C+

Click here for the next review request: Jake Johnson and the HalfBloods

Click here for the previous review request: Cloaks of Vermin and Fish

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Avengers Asemble!

I'm finally getting around to reviewing this movie. It's the reason I watched the others: The Incredible Hulk, THOR, Iron Man 2, (but not the original) and Captain America. The first time I watched it it was my birthday back in July. Now, in November, I'm finally reviewing it. I will consider the points of 1.) Epic 2.) Humor. 3). Character and 4). Plot.

1. Epic

The very first live action super hero team movie. No one else has tried to make individual superhero movies and then bring them all together into one adventure. This film is action packed coolness from the time Loki zaps into Earth through Iron Man's trademark big entrances to HULK SMASH and the big alien invasion and how the avengers counter it.

More than eye candy; Joss Whedon made sure there were personal conflicts underlying the undeniably awesome battles. Loki and Thor as the classic Cain and Abel but also the conflicts between avengers like Iron Man vs Thor and other philosophical conflicts involving SHIELD and other people and/or groups.

2. Humor

There are multiple kinds of humor. First of all there's pop culture jokes but what makes them funny is how Captain America, being a freshly thawed WWII veteran, doesn't get them. Coulson's fanboying him is also funny; a stoic and professional MiB with vintage trading cards. Robert Downey Jr truly does a terrific job playing Tony Stark; his smug sarcasm and odd behavior is always fun to watch.

3. Characters

The characters do a fantastic job playing off each other. Tony rubs everyone wrong and is delightfully arrogant and hammy. Fury stays on the border of morality in his manipulation. Coulson has met everyone except Banner; there's great history there. Tom Hiddleston had way too much fun playing Loki but also shows the depth of the character. Mark Ruffalo is my favorite actor for Bruce Banner so far; angsts about the Hulk but not to the point of wangst and with a dry sense of (often self deprecating) humor.

4. Plot

One would think with a plot centered on a powerful item like the Tesseract it would follow a basic maguffin hunt, right? Wrong! Loki acquires the Tesseract in the first act. He's captured in the third out of five. It's a dynamic plot structure. I don't detect idiot balls or anything of the sort which makes the plot so much better. One of my favorite instances comes just before the climax. I won't spoil it (though anyone reading this likely already knows) but it involves Stark and it's something the audience can figure out at the same time he does.

I can't think of anything bad to say about it.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Avengers" an A+

Review for Age of Ultron can be found here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Inspirational Monday (for real this time) Whedon Editing

My first one was early and I found this fantastic quote the other day and one can't have enough inspiration right?

"There are certain things you accept going in that you're going to do a little too much to make sure you do enough."

I watched The Avengers for the second time yesterday, and then, because I liked it so much, I watched it again with Joss Whedon's audio commentary. When he said the above quote it struck me as everything a writer needs to know about editing in a single sentence.

He's talking about one of the introductory scenes were the avengers are being introduced to the audience one by one. It's about exposition and scenes that were cut because they were redundant. In the first draft and first shooting etc, one doesn't know where everything goes and affects other scenes; 'the domino effect' is the phrase he used. You want to explain everything as often as you think is necessary to make sure that it is in there in the first draft.

The first draft is called a 'rough draft' for a reason; IT'S ROUGH. There will be scenes that need to be expanded, scenes that need to be removed,  the pacing could be too slow or too fast, characters will not be as developed as they will be in the final version, etc. When writing the first draft of anything (a novel, a paper, a blog post) I console myself with 'the first draft is always crap'. This way I am not crushed by the awfulness I created and lose confidence in myself as a writer. The fourth draft could be drastically different.  The quote is about acknowledging that; you're going to do a lot of editing. "It's the nature of the beast."

The take away from the quote and this blog post is that an author should not get attached to the first draft because it will change by the final draft. It might be radically different from the first draft and an author should not be afraid to make those changes in order to make the story better.

P.S. I found so much good advice in the rest of the commentary, I'll probably make a few more posts with them. Make a series of it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Writer Quirks and Community

The first Monday of every month is inspirational Monday. Share something that inspires you so it can inspire the rest of us.  This, while I hope it is inspiring, is not my post for the month.

Today I'd like to share a blog post I read the other day, "How To Know You're A Writer". It was one of those 'quirk lists' that one can find in many places on the Internet and while most of them are simply a moment's amusement this one stuck with me.

It spoke of how writers bring notepads everywhere in case they're struck with inspiration or internally correct the grammar of others. Without thinking about it I've been doing all those things. It was like this 'community thing' where only another writer could understand that sort of thing on an emotional level. More than 'How to Know You're A Writer' but how to know you are a writer. Writers could recognize each other by the books under their arms.

Is one of my two favorites because it's true.  Whenever I'm fortunate enough to remember a dream, and awake enough to get up and write it down, my first thought is not 'how weird was that'? but 'how can I use this in a book?' Dreaming is fishing in primordial soup. There's some great stuff in there if you can find it and write it down before it vanishes like so much smoke

My second favorite. While I don't drink coffee I do drink Five Hour Energy and Gatorade and this new Neuro Sonic stuff.  Whatever it is, writers need their fuel. Again, a community thing. Sharing food and drink is perhaps the oldest social ritual we have. I imagine writing groups go through a lot of the stuff.

Speaking of writer community, the author of the "How To Know You're A Writer" post started NaNoWriMo today. She could use a little inspiration.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Outlines; Character Action List

I've been reading a lot of posts about outlines over at Crimson League  and it's got me thinking about how I use outlines when writing A Mage's Power.  Most of the time I don't use them. I just think about what the characters involved would do next and follow that. When I get stuck or lost I use an outline I call the Character Action List (CAL) .

I create a list of events: '1. Bob does x. 2. Alice does y. 3. Charles does z. 4'. etc and I flesh out those actions when I do the true writing. One point can spiral out into several paragraphs because it is a general idea. It expands like unpacking a suitcase. This is enough to get the ball rolling and move on to the next scene.

This practice of CAL flows out of the idea that stories should be driven by their characters instead of their plots. A plot is nothing more than characters interacting with each other and their world; creating a list of the actions characters take in that world can do wonders for writer's block. When it comes time to write you have something to hold onto and push from.  It also serves as a check against Idiot Balls.

If the plot demands something of a character then a plot outline can hide how out-of-character it could be. The Character Action List  reveals the sequence of actions taken by the character and so it isolates the weak link where the character behaves differently than normal.  Spotting this sort of thing is the difference between leaving a reader in awe and providing them with snark bait.

Don't forget that the CAL is a short term thing. It maps a small area that you're stuck in and no more. Bigger outlines don't take organic growth into account and so they are too limiting. The characters are ignored in favor of what the author wants to do.  Use the CAL to listen to them and your story will be better for it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A "Incredible Hulk" trumps a mere "Hulk"

Continuing my exploration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I watched "The Incredible Hulk". I was skeptical when I bought it because "Hulk" was such a disapointment but I am a skeptic no more. In addition to having a plot this time, the reboot veers away from the human melodrama that killed the first by including plenty of action and occasional humor.

The story begins long after the experiment that transformed Bruce Banner into the Hulk. It focuses on a cure. Every action Bruce takes is towards a cure and leads the plot. On the other side of the coin, Blonsky's drive to progressively upgrade himself into the next Hulk. Thus we have passive and peaceful Banner vs aggressive and war-like Blonsky melding like yin and yang; a fascinating cinematic device. This is the sort of thing that was missing in the last Hulk movie.

Considering the poetential for action inherent in such a superhero there was little of in "Hulk". In contrast,  the "Incredible Hulk" tells the origin story briefly durring the opening credits and fills the audience in after a five month time skip. This allows it to go right to the HULK SMASH and give Bruce enough time to come to terms with initial angst. Furthermore, instead of whinning about it, this Bruce is proactive. He studies soft-handed martial arts, practices meditation, and wears a watch that monitors how close he is to hulking out. Living in a shared Marvel universe is also a bonus.

I love shared universes. Each story in the shared universe adds to all the others; a 'whole is greater than the sum of its parts', sort of thing. General Ross wants to weaponize Banner's DNA; why he wants to do this is not stated directly but inferred by the wider universe. First of all, The US government wants to recreate the super soldier serum (Captain America) to match the power of hostiles that can drop out of the sky (Thor) or wear powered armor (Iron Man).  Thinking about these elements provides a higher level of enjoyment.

The film is not perfect. There is a contrived coinicidence where the plot could have gone in a completely different direction. Then there's an idiot ball that I could have been avoided but is understandable.  Every time Banner hulks out it's in response to Ross attacking him but this is only pointed out by people who can't stop him anyway. On the whole, these issues are minor.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Incredible Hulk" an A-

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Power of THOR

Yes, late I know, but life happened. Anyway, THOR is a great movie but not for the usual reasons one would think of in the Super Hero genre. Yes, the battles are great. Yes, the special effects are impressive. However, the real pull for me was the twist on the usual villains that would inhabit this genre. They are are not (completely) evil and their minions are not cannon fodder.

The plot is notable is it's lack of a traditional "Big Bad" villain. They are the best part of the film from a story telling perspective. There are two and neither of them is the 'pure evil take over the world and laugh evily' sort.

The first villain Laufey who is introduced as a villainous character but doesn't do anything until Thor invades his world and kills a bunch of his people. This makes him an anti-villain because he is justified in his actions. One cannot dismiss him as 'pure evil monster to be smitten by the hero'.

The second is Loki. He is Thor's best friend and truly cares about him. It's only after a certain mind-shattering Revelation that he decisively moves like a villain but even then one can argue that this action was secretly to help Thor. His motivation becomes increasingly complicated as the story progresses and even at the end it's hard to call him a true villain.

Both of them lack evil plans at the story's beginning and so any evil they commit is more 'take advantage of an opportunity' than pre-meditated villainy. What's more, one can (and certainly my fellow tropers have) argue that their actions are justified, or at least understandable, given the context. The villains and their minions too.

On TvTropes we have a trope called "What Measure is a Non-Human" that states non-humans will always be treated worse than humans and when it does happen it's alright. It's okay for the hero to massacre a group of monstrous looking creature because they're evil or something. One of the reasons THOR is such a great movie is because the hero thought this was the case and was exiled for being a 'vain greedy boy'. Thor spends a great deal of the movie learning the opposite. The Frost Giants look monstrous and did indeed invade Midgard (Earth) in ages past to create a new ice age but they are not at all threatening in the main story line.

On a lighter note, humor. There's great humor. Thor and Selvig get drunk and sing. Thor and Loki have amusing brotherly moments. Darcy's role is Plucky Comedy Relief. My personal favorite involves Agent Coulson, the Destroyer, and Iron Man technology.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "THOR" an A+.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Answering Review Request: "Cloaks of Vermin and Fish" by Forrest Aguire

Forrest Aguire asked me to read his novella "Cloaks of Vermin and Fish" the other day. It takes place in Renaissance Venice and stars twin apprentices in the Thieves Guild, Italo and Vinecenzo, as they track down a relic for their boss. In the process they get tangled up with the assassin's guild, a wizard, and a cult that worships a fish god.

First off I'll say this the best opening scene I've ever read as a voluntary book reviewer. "Spoglio had wondered many times what it might feel like to die". That's the first line. Something like that draws attention. Spoglio is in the process of a robbery; an Action Prologue which also helps hold attention. It certainly had mine. It also provides world building. Finally, Spoglio is a decoy protagonist. These three factors got me interested in the story and flipping the pages. A crucial factor for the first few pages of any book. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is not so engaging.

The first twenty pages or so are a comedy. The two thieves are comical fools and the butt of jokes and amusing injuries. Even the death of their grandmother, as revealed in flashback, is treated as black comedy. Though the narration states the twins feel bad, the nature of the death and the tone of the story so far makes it hard to take seriously. Then a gruesome and horrific death occurs and the rest of the story is not so funny.

The death of their grandmother is only the tip of a horrible childhood. Without the humorous tone they become less endearing fools and more tragic victims. This itself is not bad but it occurs at the same time that the twins are demoted to someone else's sidekick. They follow this person from one informant to the next on their way to the climax. One of them performs a single significant action before the ending and the other is just....there. These two aspects drain the light hearted appeal of the story that grabbed my interest in the first place.

With a different tone, a different (for all intents and purposes) protagonist, and a shift from thievery to occult mystery it feels as though Mr.Aguire wanted to write a different story and attached it to the first. The change left a bad taste in my mouth.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Cloaks of Vermin and Fish" a C

Click here for the next review request: Predation

Click here for the previous review request: The Trouble Shooter

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My first blog tour

Today I signed on to do my first blog tour. To be strictly accurate, it is Dan Wright's blog tour and I am one of his stops but it is still my first time being part of one. It's for his fantasy novel, "Trapped On Draconica" that I reviewed a month or so ago. Other bloggers are doing character interviews and others are talking about the influence of Greek myth on the story. Right now I'm thinking about what I should do.

My first thought was to talk about the geography of Draconica; Daniar's group travels through many interesting locales to resist Emperor Gothon. There's a swamp, for instance, whose gas can make one hallucinate a pleasing sight that gets Ben in trouble, and a mountain where one can hear voices from the other end of the planet. It is critical that authors create a fully realized landscape so characters do not move around in voids. I think it will be fun.

The tour beings on November 19 and continues through the 25. My spot is the 24th.  I'll have plenty of time to decide if this what I want to do and create questions for it. You're probably more interested in the prizes, am I right?

There will be one free limited edition Trapped On Draconica ebook per blog. The BIG prize is the following:

1 X Signed copy of Trapped on Draconica
1X One page mini-comic extra
1X Trapped on Draconica T-Shirt
1X Signed piece of artwork by Alexis M Centeno herself.
1X Artwork book showing character sketches and an interview with the artist.
1X Scrapbook containing teaser artwork/character profiles for the sequel novel Legacy of the Dragonkin.

Remember, the tour goes from November 19-25.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Inspirational Monday: Useful Problems

The first monday of each month is Inspiritational Monday. Share something that inspires you and the rest of us will read and comment and be inspired.

"A problem is a misunderstood opportunity"

-Dr. Dracken from "Kim Possible"

The above quote is from a Harmless Villain in Disney's Cartoon "Kim Possible." It was spoken in regards to his Evil Plan of the episode but I took it to heart. If one can take a problem and invert it into an opportunity then not only is your problem solved but you're better off. It's a 'glass is half full' kind of thing and I like to keep that stuff in mind. I realized its truth on a personal level last month with my own writing.

I had just put together the book form of my first manuscript, "A Mage's Power" and sent it out to other fantasy authors to review. Then one of them replied back asking if I was finished. I said 'yes' and they ( in more polite and less blunt way) said I wasn't. There were errors in the first chapter; lots of them. I couldn't believe it so I checked myself. It was true and I was crushed. I had done so many revisions already that I was sure I got them all. I knew how long another in-depth revision would take when I wanted to focus on the first draft writing of different. Instead I buckled down and started at the top: Chapter 1. I'm glad I did.

Not only did I fix the errors but I found other improvements. A reference here and a better phrasing there; little things that work together to create the Full Picture. The errors improved my novel because they forced me to re-read it after spending two weeks away from it. Fresh eyes saw new things and the book is better for it.

Instead of 'mindless spell checking' revisions should be approached as 'creative polishing'. This makes it more fun and puts the focus on improving the work instead of just dotting 'i's.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Iron Man 2

Last week I reviewed Iron Man 1 and said I was going to watch Iron Man 2 that sunday. I did and now I have time to review it as well. The tone is different and that should be expected. Tony is no longer a muggle transforming into a hero but a hero sustaining that image in a world that knows both of his identities. It's a great movie, not like the first, but in it's own way.

The plot has a tremendous emphasis on 'legacy' and appropriately Tony's first scene is giving a speech on the importance of leaving behind a bounty for the world's children, of course with his trademark arrogance ("I'm not saying that the world is enjoying it's longest period of uninterrupted peace in years because of me.") and dancing girls in skimpy attire designed to look like Iron Man. Sins Of Our Fathers appears on the other side of the coin. It turns out that Howard Stark is not solely responsible for Arc Reactor technology. Anton Vanko worked with him but they had a disagreement in how it should be used so Howard deported him back to Russia, where he spent forty years in a vodoka rage. His son, Ivan, seeks revenge on Tony for the suffering Howard's actions caused him.

Entwined with the idea of legacy is the future of the Iron Man technology. Countries such as Iran have been trying to duplicate it in the six months since the last movie ended and The United States Government demands that Tony turn over his technology to them. Senator Stern is made to look like a minor villain for his attempts to paint Tony as a threat and it's not hard for the audience to agree. What he wants to do is the same thing that the first movie's villain did: create a more lethal version of Iron Man and mass produce it for war.  Tony, being more paranoid than ever, refuses to do so and proclaims himself the world's guardian. ( "I have successfully privatized world peace.")

To contrast the first film, this story is not an upward climb of Tony becoming more heroic but a downward spiral as he self-destructs. He's dying from Palladium poisoning caused by the reactor that keeps him alive. His personal character arc is split between selflessly providing for the future and selfishly enjoying himself as best he can. The problem is this looks like erratic behavior because no one knows except Nick Furry and Ivan Vanko so he alienates his friends tarnishes his claim to be the world's guardian.

The climax is suitably exciting and resolves most of the plot threads but there is one left: the government demanding Tony's Iron Man technology. This could be because Rhodes keeps the War Machine model so they have what they want, or it could be that after a second disaster with someone stealing Tony's technology (which Tony himself has to clean up) they backed off for now. (Avengers offers a third option but I won't say it here in case you haven't seen it. It will come out on DVD this week. See it!) In any case, I would have liked to see something definitive. Though the award ceremony does show Tony and Uncle Sam are back on friendly terms.

As you can see, Iron Man 2 is a lot more political than it's predecessor but I believe this is an attempt at Deconstruction and it works well. It's a good source of conflict, nicely compliments the villain's Evil Plan and sharpens Tony's character as a Technological Pacifist, albeit an arrogant one.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Iron Man 2" an A.

The Stinger points toward the next Marvel Hero, Mighty Thor, and I will review that later this week.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was tagged by Jennifer for the Next Big Thing Meme

What is the title of your book?

A Mage's Power.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

This book was written to scratch three itches.
1. At the time I was watching a lot of general shonen anime. One after another the protagonist was an Idiot Hero who got by on guts alone. I found that annoying and so I challenged myself to remove that saving grace and start with a protagonist who had nothing at all.
2. I also wanted to write about tricksters because I like tricksters.  They're fun.  So I created a trickster that would mold this loser into a hero.
3. I noticed a trend in regards to magic in a setting. If the the setting was present day than magic would always be hidden. That bothered me because the reason (if one was offered at all) was flimsy at best. It seemed like the author didn't want to bother integrating magic into the 'real world' that their audience would be reading from so I decided to create my own. This became the stage for the trickster's work.

What genre would your book fall under?

Low Fantasy

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

No idea. I thought about it and simply doesn't compute.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A trickster drops Eric in a world where magic and monsters are as common as homework and hotdogs, so he will grow a spine.

Is your book published or represented?

It will be published by me at the end of September 2012.
UPDATE: There's a learning curve when it comes to setting a launch date. Certain issues have delayed it. Thankfully, it was a self-imposed deadline. The new launch date was set to Dec.31

How long did it take you to write?

The first draft took a solid year. The next eight or nine drafts took place in short bursts over the next five-six years while I wrote the next three books in the "Journey to Chaos" series.

What other books within your genre would you compare it to?

Protector of the Small by Tamora Pirece

Which authors inspired you to write this book?

Naturally, Tamora Pirece is the biggest.  Hajime Kanzaka, author of Slayers, is right next to her though indirectly. I've only seen the anime that was based on his light novels.  Masatoshi Midori, the scenario writer for Radiata Stories, also merits mentioning.

Tell us anything else that might pique our interest in your book.

The soul of my book is a childhood spent on Action Adventure RPGs. I'm a fan of Final Fantasy and other games by Squire Enix, such as Radiata Stories. I tried to put the essence of such games into the setting. An adventurer class system, monsters that lurked outside cities, traveling to dungeons to complete an objective, and a story that evolves beyond it's initial premise; I kept all those things in mind. I believe a fan of those games will like "A Mage's Power".

Monday, September 17, 2012

Answering Review Request: Trouble Shooter by Bard Constantine

Bard Constantine asked me to review his novel "Trouble Shooter". Being a detective story I was about to tell him 'no' but the detective lives in a science fiction setting and his request was superb so I agreed. I'm glad I did. "Trouble Shooter" delivers on several levels.

The first of which is character. The protagonist, Mick Trubble, has a vivid personality. He doesn't take himself or anything else too seriously yet still plays for keeps. It was a joy to read him narrate this adventure. Even better, his personality being this way is perhaps the most critical plot point in the story. On the flip side, other characters do not receive the same develop. This story is told by Trubble and so the other characters are filtered through him, which does more to develop his own character than theirs. They're good characters and I liked them (especially Poddar's friend, Rob) but they're overshadowed by the first person protagonist;an understandable flaw.

The second is the plot. This plot has more twists and dark secrets than a New Haven politician. Revelation follows Revelation like an onion with the same eye-widening effect. While this works well for page turning it sometimes feels as though Trubble is bouncing from one informant to another with a fight in between. Thankfully Mr. Constantine adds other events to prevent this pattern from gaining a stranglehold on the narrative. The other problem with the plot is re-read value: thrillers rely on suspense and plot twists which disappear after the first read. Again, Mr. Constantine provides another lure: Trubble's narration adds charm to narration that would otherwise be bland.

This is the start of a prospective series yet the book's conflict is resolved. That's huge for me. I love it when authors resolve a book's plot while leaving the door open for more adventures. The ending is very satisfying. I'd go as far as say it's my favorite part of the story.

The third is setting. Mr.Constantine knows how this world works and what it looks like etc. I always appreciate that in a story and that kind of effort in an author. The problem is the first person narration. Personally, I don't like first person narration because it doesn't make sense for someone to narrate the setting or their continuous thought pattern. "Who are they talking to?"  Without a justification like a  frame narrative or intentional fourth wall breaking, it simply doesn't make sense and so Trubble talking about a facet of the city, while interesting, is somewhat jarring.

One thing about the setting I should definitely mention is the dialect. There's a glossary up front for terms used in the book and what they mean. 'bought the farm'=die and 'berries' is slang for 'money'. On one hand I liked this because it added to the setting but on the other it was occasionally confusing and I had to return to the glossary.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Trouble Shooter" a B+

Click here for the next review request: Cloaks of Vermin and Fish

Click here for the previous review request: The Shadow of Black Wings

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Iron Man

The last time I reviewed a movie it was Captain America.This time I review a different sort of patriot: Tony Stark the Iron Man. Yes, I've been on something of a Marvel streak ever since I saw The Avengers on my birthday. You'll see a review for that soon enough, but first, here's Iron Man.

First I want to say this is a thrilling movie. Being a Super Hero film one expects great fight scenes and Iron Man delivers on every occasion. The MK I is a juggernaut coming out of the Ten Rings cave and yet you can see how clunky it is and not quite invulnerable. Contrast this with the MK III against the same group and it's no contest. The climatic showdown is without a doubt the best of the lot, not only for the greatest action but for turning the plot of 'War Weapon' vs 'Peace Weapon' into walking metaphors with Iron Monger vs Iron Man. It is poigant in addition to really awesome. Super Heroics at its best.

There's a heart beneath all the action. By leaving for the unknown world Tony sets out on an archtypal Hero's Journey that is as heartwarming as his battles are awesome. After he returns from captivity one can see that there was a hero underneath his hedonistic demeanor and he becomes more heroic as he builds the Iron Man suit. By the time he completes it, he's flying to save a village from raiders.

Robert Downey jr gives a wonderful performance as Tony Stark. He's funny, he's serious, and, most important, he's so genuinely heroic (and a jerkass) that he can make you think he's not reciting from a script. In fact, he isn't; many of his lines are ad-libbed.

Finally, Iron Man is an examplary case of how to use a romantic sub-plot in a super hero movie. 1.His relationship with Petter Potts is present and it's important but the only scene to focus on it exclusively is a brief Dance of Rommance. The rest is in the background as a subtext to the hero-sidekick interactions.  2. Petter has a role beyond Tony's Love Interest; she's the only (excluding Rhodney) person with his absolute trust. This is a plot point at many occasions and she is resonsible for uncovering the Big Bad's Evil Plan.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Iron Man 1 an A+.  I plan to watch number two tomorrow.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wiki Cleaner Award

Today I found a surprise in my mailbox at TvTropes; a message saying I was given the Wiki Cleaner Award!

TvTropes, I'm sorry to say, has numerous problems. Misuse of trope and Natter are two big ones that undermine our purpose of cataloging the devices of storytelling. Trope misuse creates confusion and natter transforms trope and work pages into thread forums. This is why intensive clean up is necessary.

For the last year or so I've been working on two tropes in particular: Beyond the Impossible and Xanatos Gambit: the former is defined as 'breaking internal logic' and latter as 'a plan in which both success and failure benefit the planner in some way'.  I spent an hour every night (two on the weekends) searching their list of wicks for incorrect usage. There was a lot.

Beyond the Impossible was frequently used to emphasis something, especially something badass or extreme.  From over six thousand wicks I brought it down to less than four hundred. Xanatos Gambit was often mistaken to mean 'generic plan' or 'evil plan' or 'exceptionally clever plan'. It had over three thousand wicks at its height and fortunately I had help with this one. Xanatos Gambit is infamous on our wiki because it used to have as many as ten snowclones and long term misuse. This attracted many tropers and we all pitched in bring the misuse down to eight hundred.

I'm honored to have received this award. It truly made my day.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Answering Review Request: "Blood Skies" by Steven Montano

Steven Montano asked me to read his novel "Blood Skies". The ground is black, the water is brown, and the sky is well, the color of blood. That should tell you all you need to know about the setting: it's not a nice a place to live. On Tvtropes, we call this a "Crapsack World" because life sucks for everybody. Despite that, there are still soldiers like Eric Cross who fight to keep vampires out of human territory. The plot follows his mission to stop "Red" from selling vital human secrets to the vampric Old One.


Setting: The story takes place after "The Black" a mysterious event that transformed Earth into a poisoned and broken world rife with hostile supernatural creatues like vampires, ghouls, and assorted monsters. What's left of humanity has been at war with, well, the entire world really, but especially the vampires. Their weapons range from guns of varying size, to hexed salts, and mages. How magic works is crucial to the plot and revealed slowly so I won't spoil anything here. I will say, however, that it was fascinating and movingly written.

Far more interesting than the mechanics of the setting is the mood created by the setting. It really is a shitty place to live and Mr. Montano has a gift for illustrating just HOW shitty. The state of the cities is dark and gloomy and grimmy. Day-to-day life is a struggle to pull half-way decent food from border-line hostile soil. Vampire attacks are a constant threat and there are only just enough soldiers to avert a tragedy but the cost is regularly high. Most of the humans 'play hard' i.e. (drugs, alcohol, prositution etc) because the possibility they won't be able to the next day is just as high, and even then the tobacco tastes like it had been 'drenched in urine'.


The Plot I like. Bare boned it's a fairly simple Macguffin hunt but there's a lot of meat here. It is charged by the atmosphere and the character's drive to fulfill another, unrelated goal. The history of the world and the nature of the mission is revealed little by little. There's no  As You Know here and while it's a little bewildering at first it only adds to the Full Picture. Everybody knows this stuff. They're not gonna recite it for the audience's benefit because there is no audience, hence a sense of realism. Like strands in a coil of rope; there's a lot of them and they're coiled tightly.

The Plot's conflict is resolved, which I REALLY like. This book is the first in a series and there are more problems to come but this book's conflict is fully resolved. I can honestly say the climax is my favorite part of the book. It brings together plot threads, it is suspensful, it is true to the tone and the setting. However, there are two things I don't like about the plot.

1. If "Blood Skies" were a tabletop game then Mr.Montano would be a sadistic dungeon master. If something can go wrong it will go wrong. The tainted world, though great for atmosphere, is not relevant storywise and so its greatest impact is to make the characters more miserable than they would be otherwise. Any time something good happens something horrible is nearby.

2. SPOILER! All I'll say is that Cross' group does something stupid, they acknowledge it as stupid, and the results are tragic. Making it even worse is that it had nothing to do with the plot. The danger comes out of nowhere and has no further relevance than the said tragedy. It works WONDERFULLY for the Setting (to show a wider world with more troubles than the Protagonist's own) but in terms of plot it's an oddball and feels like a device to produce the tragedy.

Now for characters. On one hand, it's hard to judge the characters because so many of them die shortly after their introduction but on the other this itself charactizes all of them. Humans are fragil. There's little in the way of Plot Armor. Cross, the protagonist himself, wouldn't have lived through his introduction without his spirit. All the characters live in a precarious state of life and death which is great for suspense.

Cross himself is a great protagonist. He is set up and developed and ready for the story. No time is wasted making him 'identifiable' to the audience. I always apperciate that but my favorite part about him is his relationship to his sister, Snow. It's the most beautiful thing in this story.

Few characters get Cross' level of development. This is because a lot of them die quickly so I'm willing to give Mr.Montao a pass on them but there is no excuse for the vampires. Despite having their own society with cities and rules and and social stratification they are Always Chaotic Evil monsters who started a war for apparently no reason.

On the whole, this story has a good plot, setting and characters; mared only by a single Idiot Ball.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Blood Skies" a B+

Monday, September 3, 2012

Magic Music

The first Monday of each month is Inspirational Monday. Share something that inspires you.

"There will be times, on this journey, all you'll see is darkness......But out there somewhere, daylight finds you....if you keep believing in." -Phil Collins, "Look Through My Eyes

Music has power. To me it is the power to inspire. I listen to songs when I need a jolt or fresh inspiration. I have a file of songs arranged by story idea that I refer to when necessary. Some of them are about hope and determination, like the one quoted above. Others are high energy and either light-hearted or intense. Still others are somber. All of them have different ideas and themes and messages that mesh into creative power. I recommend all writers create a playlist for this purpose.

This month's post is part of the "Inspiration" series and is closely related to last month's "Aboard The Absolution" post. Many of those songs relate back to the shows I used to watch and still watch.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Reviewing Troper

If you've been following my book reviews you'll notice I'll use terms such as 'big bad' and 'idiot ball' and 'translator microbes' with links to a site called 'TvTropes'. This is because I find them useful phrases, but more importantly, it's because I've been assimilated into the Troper Hive Mind.

I discovered the site back in college.  It was both entertaining and enlightening.  Entertaining because despite being a encyclopedic reference it uses casual and engaging language. Enlightening because it zapped any pretensions I had to originality and thus freed me to enjoy the building blocks of fiction without fear.

Five or so years later I'm expanding the site's literature section with the books I review. TVTropes is a Gateway Drug and so I can lead my fellow tropers to those books in the hopes they will enjoy them as much as I did.  The following pages have been created by me so far:
1. Trapped On Draconica
2. Light And Dark The Awakening Of The MageKnight
3. The Shadow of Black Wings

The last one is the most recent one written by James Calbraith. A troper named dsana has been helping me fill it out. Its gathered an amazing 31 inbounds in two days. Perhaps more since I checked. I'll read its sequel in the near future because I like the characters and the world they live in. It's already out but I have out books to review before I can get to it.  Blood Skies by Steven Montano will likely be the next work to be assimilated.

I hope you will visit these pages and join our ranks. If you are a writer, there are many reasons why you should. See "Inspirational Monday-TvTropes" for more information.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Answering Review Request: Shadow of Black Wings

I was asked by James Calbraith to read and review his debut novel "Shadows of Black Wings". It's the first book in the "Year of the Dragon Series". In terms of plot I can't tell you much (more on that later) but the gist of it comes in two parts: 1.) Bran is a boy fresh out of college and isn't sure what to do with his life. 2.) Conspiracies both mundane and supernatural brew in Yamato while the world outside it seeks entrance.

The book's strongest point is world building. I love world building; I love it when the author takes the time to paint the full picture. It shows attention to detail and a sense that the author put great thought and effort into creating their setting. In "Shadows of Black Wings" every scene and location is painted to perfection. Some books have characters moving in a void but that's never a problem here. I feel as though I could set foot on any location from Llambed Academy in Dracoland (The UK) to the Suwa Shrine in Yamato (Japan). This is not a 2-D painting either. Much exposition goes into the history Bran's homeland, its landscape and the ones he travels to, the local culture vs those nearby, differences between towns and cities, and, most interesting, the magical technology of the setting.

On another note, the languages. There are many languages in this setting and our protagonist, Bran, is not a linguist. Some other author would not bother with them and others would use a 'translation spell' or some other devices in a attempt to include many languages but avoid a language barrier. Not this author. The fact that Bran does not know the local language is a plot point and receives a chapter worth of attention.

A second strong point is character development. Mr. Calbraith has a knack for quickly developing characters. Just one scene and a name becomes a 3-D flesh and blood person. On TVtropes we call this "Establishing Character Moment" and it serves him well. My personal favorite is Nagomi's for being the most poignant and indulging in bait and switch to make me think she was something she was not. This added greater depth to her character right off the bat.

Another point in the characters' favor is that they dominant the plot. Every choice a character makes influences what happens to them and to others. One of my two biggest pet peeves concerning plots is the danger of them derailing characters to make themselves work. That's not a problem here.

The weakest point is the plot. As the saying goes, ' a stool stands on three legs' and the third leg of this stool is shaky. The premise states the focus is in Yamato yet it takes Bran 2/3 of the book just to reach the island.If Mr. Calbraith wanted to spend the book creating a world and characters, that's fine. I would have enjoyed that. However, there is a plot. He simply spends the whole book getting to it. Its a pretense of a plot that prevents from truly appreciating the setting.

I keep thinking 'is the plot starting now?'  There are many plot threads that are brought up and then never appear again. At one point, a man in Yamato schemes in the manner of a Big Bad. At another Bran fights a dragon zombie. Wars his homeland is fighting are mentioned. None of them are developed.  They do wonders for the flavor of the setting but nothing for the plot.

More importantly, failure to conclude the book's conflict is, in my opinion, the worst thing an author can do short of plot tumors. Yes, it is part of a series but there should be some kind of closure for the conflict exclusive to this book. This ending makes me think Mr. Calbraith cut the manuscript in half and published the first half as book one. Without a plot, the entire book becomes nothing more than world building and character introduction; a twinkie without the cream. Instead of resolving conflict its the opposite. Conflict is only just beginning in the final pages. Thia turns me off from reading the second book because I suspect the ending was crafted this way solely for the 'left hanging' factor. In other words, a way to prod readers into buying the next book.

I like the characters and the world they live in but the conflict truly begins at the end and so the book itself feels more like a travel narrative than a novel. I am interested in reading the second book but, because of the ending, its not high on my to-do list.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Shadow of Black Wings" a  C+. 

Click here for the next review request: The Trouble Shooter

Click here for the previous review request: Light and Dark: The Awakening of the Mage Knight

Friday, August 17, 2012

Watching Captain America on Election Day

I bought "Captain America: The First Avenger" for my birthday last month but until now I didn't have a good time to watch it. I decided there was no better than to celebrate my first voting day since I graduated from college. It did not disappoint. The plot was great, the characters are entertaining and well developed, and the visuals are amazing.

The follows a steady progression from "Steve Rogers the wimpy guy" to "Captain America the war hero."  I've seen Super Hero movies that spend too much time on 'getting to the superness' and not enough of showing the super hero in action. That's not a problem here. Steve kicks ass from breaking out PoWs to dismantling Hydra's network to the final battle on an aircraft carrier. Even better is how they show Steve is already a hero before getting an upgrade from the super serum. In fact, this is a plot point that defines the first act and his relationship with the villain, Red Skull.

A second point of the plot is the integration in the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. Steve works shoulder to shoulder with Howard Stark, father of Tony Stark the Iron Man, and the Tesseract that Red Skull uses to power his army's weapons is from Thor's homeword of Asgard. I really like Shared Universe because it gives a sense of a wider world; the story we see (in this case, watch) is only a fragment of everything that's going on. In fact  there's a discussion on TvTropes "The Avengers" page where the tropers debate why other Marvel heroes don't help out the Avengers when the Chitauri invade and one of the answers is they are; we just don't see it. With a Shared Universe that answer is perfectly reasonable.

You know you have a good plot when it follows character development. Here we have a plot that is driven by the ambitions of the characters inside it. Dr. Erskine wants to create a truly noble warrior while Steve wants to serve his country; their goals merge and become Captain America.  Colonel Philips, on the other hand, has different ideas of what the perfect soldier is and thus his ambitions initially clash with Erskine's.  At the other end of the pond, Red Skull wants to take over the world, not because he's a villain in a super hero film, but because he believes himself to be a 'superior man' whose arrogance was by amplified by the same super serum as Steve. The Howling Commandos are just as fun to watch, and fun to root for, as the hero himself.

Everyone gets their time to shine. Peggy headshots a Nazi spy from a great distance. Dungan,  Gabe Jones and Jacques, hi-jack a HYDRA tank and wreck havoc in the base they hijack it from. Colonel Philips is played by Tommy Lee Jones! And he knows how to a Hydra captive sing like a bird without touching them. By no means does Captain America hog all the awesome.

Finally, the movie is just really feaking cool. The battle scenes, the magic/science of the Tesseract, and the more low-key interactions between Steven and others like Erskine. Its a wonderful movie. I'm glad I bought. I might watch it again on the next election day.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Answering Review Request: Light and Dark The Awakening of the Mageknight

Daniel Fife asked me to review his first book "Light Dark The Awakening of MageKnight". The protagonist, Danny is a normal student when he stumbles into a battle between a white dragon and a black shadow creature. The next day he finds out the dragon was the pretty new transfer student he has a crush on. She draws him into her world, where she is a squire for the Order of the Light and fights the shadow monsters who seek to destroy the world.

It is not the most original of plots. Anyone with a drop of genre savvy could predict every plot twist in the story. Except for one which, appropriately, is the most important one of all. Even without that it is still a enjoyable read.
1.This isn't some half-assed cliche storm. Mr.Fife put thought into the life of the knight's community to create the full picture. The knight's tailor, for instance, has zilch to do with the plot but he is necessary for the setting. Someone's got to make the squire robes, after all, and someone needs to tailor them to fit the flabby rookies as they develop into lean knights. There's also a scene about elfin tea practices which serves as character development in addition to world building. It's one of my favorite scenes.
2. Another one of my favorite scenes is the squire duel. Mr. Fife knows how to write an action scene. He also knows how to give his hero a superpower without it turning in a gamebreaker or introducing a kryptonite factor to negate it entirely. All it does is level the playing field against stronger and more experienced opponents.
3. The transition from event to event is smooth and believable. Thus the pacing is enjoyable, except for one part which I will get to later. Mr.Fife does not rely on idiot balls to move the plot along. Instead it is powered by the agendas of many different people contrasting and meshing.
4. The character development is great, or more appropriately, it becomes great after the characters arrive at the knight school. Once he focuses on the main characters (instead of introducing new ones every chapter) they all develop distinct and likable personalities.

This book has its flaws. There are three of them and they're all in the first arc.
1. Pacing. Dragons don't show up until the fourth chapter (p. 18) and that is a brief moment. Answers and genuine world building don't come for another 7 pages. In-universe the pacing is also off. The story begins on the first day of school, then skips weeks to the first shadow, then a sixth month skip where apparently both the good and bad guys sit on their butts and do nothing, and finally a skip to the end of school. In 45 pages, only two shadows show up and Danny is just beginning to find out about them. If this were a TV show, all of that would be dealt with in the first episode, second tops.

I have a suspicion that Mr.Fife wanted to make Danny as identifiable as possible and this is the reason for the odd pacing. 'first day of the school year', 'bullies' 'crushes', etc. These had to happen in school for the reader to slot themselves into Danny's place. Once this is established, Mr.Fife has to make month long jumps where nothing happens to put his characters into a 'summer knight training school' where the plot truly begins.
2. Characters. There are too many characters introduced early on that are not important. It's a waste of space and a drag on the storyline. Their characterization is also a problem. No one has a solid character in the first arc; not Danny, not Sabrina, no one. I referred to them as 'average guy' and 'pretty new girl' until they arrived at the knight academy. Danny's friends are even worse; they're names with a biography attached. All of them are better characterized by the end but that doesn't justify their poor characterization at the start.
3. Construction. Normally I praise world building but only if it serves to build the full picture. What Mr.Fife did in the first arc violates the Law of Conservation of Detail. He introduces half a dozen characters in the first arc who will never be seen or heard from again; builds a school environment; starts the story on the first day of school when the meat of the story takes place when its over. It's a horrible idea to build this setting and then throw it away.

Based on the first arc (the first 45 or so pages) it deserves an F. Based on the remaining 150 or so pages, it deserves an A or B. I can't reconcile the 'mundane school' writing with the 'knight school writing'. It's like they were written by different people.

Trickster Eric Novels doesn't know what to give this book.

Click here for the next review request: Shadow of Black Wings

Click here for the previous review request: Trapped On Draconica

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Aboard the Absolution

The first monday of the month is inpirational monday. I blog about stuff that inspires me.  (Yeah, I'm two days late for this month. Stuff happened).

This guy is T.O.M. 3.0 and he's the host of the animation block Toonami.  It aired from 1997-2008 every day after school and then Saturday only. Then, as I mentioned in a previous post it was revived at the end of last May and is again on Satuday nights. The "Toonami Faithful" gather then for a Toonami Twitter Party.  Thinking about him makes me want to start revising right now.

Toonami introduced me to anime and it has fed my imagination ever since. Those shows provided me with the inspiration to start fanfiction.  Which grew into an original novel that I plan to publish next month. I pretty much spent my childhood on his space ship, The Absolution, gorging myself on everything from action to comedy to romance.

However, the real reason T.O.M. continues to inspire me is that he's more than a host for a programing block. He's a character himself. He talked to the audience about the shows he broadcasted and rated games he'd played. Clip shows made from the shows would play during commercials. They weren't advertisements; they were philosophical and encouraging. I remember one such line, 'Believe in yourself and create your own destiny. Don't fear failure'. Then the screen panned out to reveal T.O.M. at a computer and looking silently at the viewer.

Because of him I'm a novelist today.