Won’t Break Your Heart: Sorcery & Cecelia, by Wrede and Stevermer

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I hadn’t quite expected this to be so good.  In fact, I futzed around and failed to really start it for about four weeks (or maybe longer).  But there was some point, maybe around page 80, when I seem to have flipped a switch; suddenly all I wanted to do was finish the book.  It’s lovely and wonderful, and I would certainly recommend it to pretty much anyone who has any interest in epistolary novels, or female protagonists in post-Napoleonic Wars England, or magic, or even just fun stories.  To be clear, given how readily I’ve bounced off of other similar characters before, I had no idea how much fun they could be.

Sorcery & Cecelia (which I have learned, much to my delight, is part of a series) was written back in the 80’s as a Letter Game.  Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer decided to write letters to each other in the voice of their two respective characters, relating gossip and intrigue, and telling each other about the fabulous and exciting things which they were each getting up to.  When they’d finished their game, they looked at their collection of letters and realized that they’d basically already written a novel.  With some editing for details, continuity, and pacing, they found that they had a perfectly acceptable manuscript, and then managed to get it published.  I am exceedingly glad that they did.

Look, I don’t want to ruin any of the book for you by mentioning things.  Suffice it to say that the two main characters’ adventures and intrigues make excellent reading, and Kate and Cecilia are absolutely brilliant as heroines who must vanquish their antagonists, while carefully acting within the constraints imposed on them by society.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this book.  It’s really quite good.

p.s. Thank you to the visitor who recommended this to me one morning in Mama Dorr’s kitchen.  I wish I could remember your name to thank you properly, especially after the excellent conversation we had about epistolary stories and your research into the subject. [Edit: The visitor was Naomi, but I appear to have misattributed the recommendation!  It was still an awesome conversation, but Thomas may have been the original source.  I might manage to get to the bottom of this.  Maybe.]

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Litany Against Car?

Crosswalk

This was brought on by an incidental conversation that touched on becoming a Boston pedestrian, and was too “funny” not to share with you.  You may be familiar with the original Litany Against Fear, from Dune.  But have you heard the Litany of Hit and Runs?

I must not cede right-of-way.  Cars are the me-killer.  Cars are the little-death that brings total obliteration.  I will face the car.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.  And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.  Where the car has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.

And, of course, here’s the original:

I must not fear.  Fear is the mind-killer.  Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.  I will face my fear.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.  And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.  Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.

Flash Fiction: Almost A Cantina

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You know the drill.  Chuck Wendig made a challenge, I wrote some flash fiction.  This time, I had to tell a story in 100 words.  Have fun.

***

Benny and Peter sit across from each other in the saloon’s corner booth, surrounded by empty bottles.  Benny gesticulates wildly with a gun, making a point, yelling at Peter.  Peter eases his pistol out of its holster, keeping it under the table.

“Imbecile!”  Benny shouts, “That’s not how it was at all!”  He slams his gun down on the table for emphasis.

There’s a sudden ear-splitting crack and the pistol leaps in Peter’s hand.  Benny slumps over the table, moaning as he bleeds.

Peter glares at the injured man.  Smoke rolls from his gun.

“Idiot.  Han definitely shot first.”

***

An alternative cover photo:

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Flash Fiction: Cosmo Katie

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This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig involves a random cocktail generator and 1000 words of pure imagination.  I got the Cosmo Katie, and took it to a dark place.  I mean, space is pretty dark most of the time, right?  Enjoy.

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Work In Progress: Last Days of Loneliness

I’ve shared my thoughts on this with you before (here too), but I have some more material.  It turns out that I still haven’t solved some issues I was nattering about back in November:

So, I’m still seeing this big problem looming in front of me.  I’ve got this wonderful ending all set up at the moment, with Amanda and Doug Felber working together to try to burn the eggs in order to destroy them.  I really like the whole idea of the flamethrower, and think it’s pretty awesome.  But WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY KNOW TO USE A FLAMETHROWER?

That’s one big issue: I don’t presently have a reasonable path for them to follow to even discover that fire would be necessary to kill the stupid eggs.  Nor do I have a reason for why anyone would tell them this.  Nor do I have a reason why they would think that the whole town might be destroyed, nor do I have a reason for why they might find out that destroying the eggs would result in destroying the town.

To sum it up:

  • No reason to know to kill the eggs with fire
  • No one with a reason to *tell* them to kill the eggs with fire
  • No reason to know that killing the eggs destroys the town
  • No one with a reason to tell them that killing the eggs destroys (or might destroy) the town.

In some ways, that last one is the easiest to solve.  If one of them tells someone that knows the Mother about the plan to destroy the eggs, that person might wig out and tell them that it’s a stupid idea.  Problem is, anyone who did tell them it’s a stupid idea would also then know that they were thinking about destroying the eggs.

All of that is potentially solved through sufficient idiot-balling, with Amanda fooling Rick/friend into thinking that she’s going to join the cult and getting a tour of the eggs and asking questions (“If they’re so important, why aren’t they better protected?  What would happen if someone broke them?”).  But that feels like it could be more than Amanda would be willing or able to pull off, and it would require the other person not to twig to the very suspicious questions.  Don’t like that idea.  See top for previous intro of this concept, which I’m now mostly dismissing.

Should I just kill my darlings and do away with killing the eggs with fire, and even do away with having the town be destroyed?  What would that look like?

Ditching both schticks

Amanda goes to town on the eggs with a sledgehammer, breaks them open and kills them, the town’s covenant is broken and the cult’s connection to Mother is destroyed (or maybe the cultists were all just crazy to begin with and that was all just them being super fucked in the head).  There’s a big anti-climax in the massive-wreckage department (have to rewrite the beginning again).  Amanda then has to burn down her house or something in order to ensure that her parents don’t try to come home, and flees town.  Another option would be going home and hoping that no one knows that she’s the one who broke the eggs, but that seems really boring because it doesn’t resolve the panic and tension of risking being discovered.  Which has been building since the middle of the book.

Ok, this seems possible, but the only interesting version of this that I can see at the moment is having Amanda burn down her house to force her family to move afterwards, and there’s just not as much horror there (unless, maybe, she murdered some people in the course of breaking the eggs, in which case now she’s also wanted for murder).

Quick question: what’s freakiest?  I think the most horrific option, and the one which best showcases her determination and how far she’s gone in terms of leaving conventional morality, is for Amanda to KNOW that she will (or might) kill everyone in town if she carries through with her plan.  She could find this out at the last minute, which wouldn’t change how bad what she does is, but knowing further ahead of time leaves more of the blame on her.  There’s no argument for the “heat of the moment” defense or whatever.

But “accidentally” destroying the town is pretty bad too, especially if she appears to feel little remorse.  And that opens up some potentially interesting scenes.

So then…

Keeping the “TOWN IS DESTROYED” schtick

I could keep the whole ‘town is destroyed thing’ and instead have it come as a surprise to Amanda.

Maybe she still planned to leave town because she thought she’d be discovered and killed, along with her family, so she sent her parents to NYC for their date, and then planned to burn down the house.  Turns out she didn’t have to burn down the house and tries driving away instead of sticking around for an earthquake that seems like seriously bad news.  Not as horrifying because Amanda doesn’t intentionally kill the whole town, but still pretty good overall.

OR

She thought she could get away with it and didn’t have plans to leave the town, so she just set up a date to distract her parents while she runs around all night.  If the date was in town, she finds them and hustles them into the car or desperately tries to convince them to leave (maybe at gunpoint).  If the date wasn’t in town, she just books it from town?

The ‘parents at gunpoint’ scene sounds pretty good, but the rest of it doesn’t feel like it has as much tension.  This would extend the physical threat of the climax, but (apart from holding her parents or others at gunpoint) wouldn’t do much to heighten the emotional climax.

One thing I definitely *don’t* want is for Doug to know that the town will be destroyed while Amanda does not.  I also don’t want him to know that it could happen and then inform Amanda.  That makes him as much (if not more) a villain as she is, and makes him just as complicit in the destruction of the town.  Besides, if he knows all these things, why hasn’t he acted on them?  If he would destroy the eggs himself, Amanda becomes at worst passive and at best an instigator rather than a decisive actor.

I do like the ‘holding parents at gunpoint thing, and I like the ‘town is destroyed’ thing, and I especially like her knowing ahead of time that the town will be destroyed (though I still would have to solve that stupid problem of it making no sense).  What about killing it with fire?

Pros / Cons of KILLING IT WITH FIRE

First of all, the scene (which has changed a good deal) originally came to me as something that involved a homemade flamethrower.  There was something almost too horrifying about having Amanda kill people with the flamethrower, something that really made the scene stand out in my mind.  Plus, if you’re looking at Cthonian eggs according to the relevant source material (which is fictitious bullshit anyway, so who cares), it’s made pretty clear that fire is definitely the best way to kill them.  Thinking about what you’d have to do in order to break a round, smooth-ish, and occasionally squirming rock… you’d be pretty likely to see your sledgehammer bounce or deflect in some possibly vicious ways.  For all that it requires more work beforehand and is more complicated overall, killing it with fire is definitely a lot simpler in the actual execution.

Are there any real story or scene benefits to having Amanda use a flamethrower vs. Amanda using a sledgehammer or something?

I guess I had an easier time imagining her using a flamethrower just because it would require less active upper body strength, but I already know that she does martial arts and has for quite a while, and I’ve definitely had female friends who are quite capable of and enjoy using sledges.  So using a sledgehammer certainly passes the plausibility test.  It also fits with the whole “Amanda is a hardcore badass” thing I’ve got going.  Fighting people with one is a little more difficult, but she’s still got the same things going for her.

I would be sad to see the flamethrower go, because it’s a fear-weapon as much as anything else.  There’s something especially upsetting about having Amanda kill people with the flamethrower in the course of achieving her goals, and I like that.  It isn’t as easy as using a gun, and feels more personal while still being scary.

Thinking a little further, I was going to mention that a sledgehammer allows for Amanda to use her martial arts in the middle of the fight while the flamethrower doesn’t, but that isn’t quite true.  It would certainly make it easier for someone else to rush her and for her to then get in a physical fight with them, but that’s still possible with the flamethrower; her having a flamethrower just means that the people facing her have to be more desperate, or the situation has to allow them to get next to her without her burning them.

What if Amanda and Doug plan to use the sledge, but bring the flamethrower as a fallback plan?  This is good, and gives an opportunity for Amanda to try breaking the eggs in the mine and fail… but it doesn’t serve tension in any meaningful way (if there’s a flamethrower, the writer will *use* the flamethrower, thank you very much).

This reminds me of a side problem, namely that I’m not sure why Amanda isn’t trying to break the eggs while still in the mine.  My original thought on that involved her taking them elsewhere to kill them in a special way or with a time delay that would let her escape town, but *that* was predicated on knowing that killing them would result in the destruction of the town, which is still a problem that I haven’t solved.

Flash Fiction: Power Play

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This week’s flash fiction challenge, as brought to you by Chuck Wendig’s blog terribleminds, is to write a short story (of no more than 1000 words), using one of a group of randomly generated sentences.  I’ve altered the deal a bit, both because I’m short on time and because I want a different challenge: I’m going to try to use several of them to tell a story as quickly as possible.  I’ve got three of them in here, and you can find the list on Chuck Wendig’s page.  Enjoy!

***

The shooter says goodbye to his love.  He closes his phone and feels at peace with what he is about to do.  He lies on the ridge overlooking the road where it runs along the canyon’s edge, over the river, and he can see far down the highway.  His target, a group of teenagers who do not understand what they took when they grabbed the old worn suitcase from the old worn man, has been confirmed en route past his position.  The rest is up to him.

Rock music approaches at high velocity.  The open convertible is filled with four raucous partiers, celebrating their new-found wealth.  The suitcase rests in the center of the backseat.  The shooter lines up his shot, waiting for his moment.  When he fires, the driver’s head snaps back then forward again, bouncing off the headrest.  The driver’s arms jerk.  The wheel pulls right, and the car plows through the guardrails and out over the edge of the canyon, sailing through the emptiness.  The car trails teenagers’ screams.  The shooter watches in consternation, and he knows what must have gone wrong.

The shooter pulls out his phone again, this time calling a different number. He dials a number he knows by heart.  When the other side picks up, he speaks calmly and swiftly.  “The target is down, but there’s a problem.  The river stole the gods.  End transmission.”

World Building: The Hells of Errant Souls

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Hell, courtesy of Dante.

Last time I kept mentioning someone that I decided to call the Most Powerful Devil (MPD), without ever going any further into who or what that was.  But I’ve come up with more background for them since then, and in so doing I’ve also come up with more details for the game-world as a whole.

So, today I have a stupidly simple calendar (though I haven’t yet bothered to give the months names), I have a better idea of what the afterlife looks like (I’ve totally tossed out the basic alignment-based fare in favor of something a bit more complex), and I have a name and backstory for the Most Powerful Devil.  I think you’ll like this stuff. Continue reading

Misleading Movie Titles 101: Jupiter Ascending

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Jupiter falling.  Again.  I lost totally count.

What a poorly titled movie.  Sure, one could argue that there’s an overall metaphorical upwards trajectory for Jupiter’s (Mila Kunis’) life, but over the course of the movie she spends far more time falling.  And being caught or carried by Channing Tatum (who was often agreeably shirtless).  Yet there were a few things that rose over the course of the movie: my excitement, my confusion, and my blood alcohol level.  Oh, and my voice, because I gave up on staying silent and just started talking in the movie theater.  I think the Wachowskis may be branching out into straight-to-RiffTrax movie releases.

You want to hear a few of the redeeming features of the movie?

Sean Bean doesn’t die.  Also, the movie has a hilariously recognizable cast, with many very watchable faces.  The depictions of the terrifying spacefuture (well, spacepresent) are intriguing and gorgeous, even when they’re super goofy and prominently feature terrible science.  The concept art and overall design are beautiful, fascinating, and leave the movie chock-full of eye candy.  And the comedy commentary practically writes itself, especially if you know and like Oedipus.

None of this makes up for the fact that the movie is terrible, but they’re all compelling reasons to see it on a very large screen with good sound for as little money as possible.  Preferably with enough booze to get you tipsy, because facing this movie sober seems like a terrible idea.

Flash Fiction: Never Goes Smooth (4/4)

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The villain of our story thus far.

Time for another bout of flash fiction, the final part of Chuck Wendig’s four part flash fiction challenge!  In this case I used a piece that eventually became titled Never Goes Smooth, a low-fantasy low-life adventure story.  It was started by Probably False, continued by Matthew Gomez, the penultimate piece was penned by Pikabot / Peter MacDonald, and then I added my two cents.  If you like ne’er-do-wells with swords and attitudes who have to figure out what to do when they get the short end of life’s stick, you’ll probably like this.  Enjoy!

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