The Monster in the Middle of the Road is Me, by J.P. Romney

monstermiddle

Aside from having a name long enough to make my post-title formatting sensibilities cringe, this was a pretty good book. I had some other thoughts about it too, which I’ll address after the break, but at first blush it’s good fun: a young adult paranormal mystery set in Japan. I’m glad my friend gave it to me when I asked for something new to read.

Continue reading

Curse of the Blue Tattoo, by L. A. Meyer

295654-_uy475_ss475_

Yup! This one is pretty good too!

It’s almost a different genre though. Where the first book (*very mild genre spoilers*) was largely historical fiction and adventure, with a dash of romance towards the end, this one is more of a school social drama (still historical fiction), complicated by romance and a dash of adventure (*end spoilers*).

I’d say it’s still worth reading, but if you were only here for the sailing ships I’m afraid you’ll be rather disappointed. On the other hand, there were a few ships on the side as set dressing and I’m sure there will be more ships in the next book. And, of course, it’s still tremendous fun.

However! I should note that there’s some sexual harassment featured in this one, more so than in the last. The first book had a little, which ultimately ends rather poorly for the abuser (thank goodness). This one has more, at lower intensity for the vast majority, in other situations. I don’t think it’s been too much so far, but I’m not sure that I like this as a pattern.

On the one hand, sure, it makes sense to include some of this. I’m more willing to accept it in part because it doesn’t overshadow Jacky in any way, and her reactions to it feel quite real. It makes it clear how uncomfortable and unwanted that behavior is, and how confusing and difficult it can be to react to receiving it. If nothing else, it might be a decent learning experience for young not-female readers, where they can come away from it thinking “oh, that’s fucked up, we shouldn’t do things like that.” But on the other hand, I don’t want to keep reading about sexual harassment and assault in every Jacky Faber book. If that is an underlying theme of the series… well, I’d really rather that it weren’t.

This hasn’t been a terrible sticking point for me so far. But it might become one, and it may already be one for you. Forewarned is forearmed, etc.

And again, I still like this one and I’m planning to read the next book damn soon. So it obviously hasn’t stopped me yet.

Bloody Jack, by L. A. Meyer

bloody_jack_cover

Publisher’s Weekly certainly isn’t wrong. I’ll warn you though, some of the other covers for this series are bizarrely out of keeping with the text and themes. I’m talking about you, weirdly sexualized romance-cover blond girl.

Fortunately, reading this book doesn’t involve long hours of staring at its cover! It’s a fast read, and is excellent historical naval adventure fiction with a female protagonist. I’m not certain what to think of Jack’s characterization at a few points (Jack gets a period, feels emotional, I don’t know whether to say that it’s well or poorly done), but goodness the rest of the book is fun.

Fun. Yes. That’s a good word for this book. It’s wonderfully fun late middle grade / early YA adventure fiction, with just enough in the way of messy emotions near the end to leave it straddling the two camps while still feeling very much like a middle grade adventure story. It puts me in the mood to write more Miska, and also to read the rest of this series. It’s good stuff. I recommend it.

Dust Girl, by Sarah Zettel

13599678.jpg

Fun! I admit, I was a little worried around sixty pages in that it would be a tropey retread of territory already covered by American Gods. The voice and perspective are significantly different, which helped, but it wasn’t until a bit later that I felt the story really found its stride (around the same time that it decided to double down on fairies). If I weren’t reading this for class and therefore about to rush into another wildly different book, I think I’d enjoy polishing off this series.

Speaking of which, the cover says The American Fairy Trilogy… which is too bad. Obviously, you want to mention that there are more books for your audience to buy; doing otherwise is bad marketing (shooting yourself in the foot, really). But it also shaped my experience of the story in a way that makes analyzing how I feel about the book as a whole more difficult. It’s very obviously not the end of the story, though I think Zettel sticks the landing for this section of it, and I wonder whether I would have preferred to read the whole thing in one go. Or what might have changed if it weren’t divided into parts. There’s a lot to be said for how my genre and story-length expectations shape my reading, and I think that may confound Zettel’s goal here to some extent.

That said, Sarah Zettel very clearly knows what she’s doing, and does it well. The book is catchy, fun to read, and really gets a move on once you get out of the very beginning. Future plot hooks are well established, I feel like I have a decent sense of the characters, and life is plenty complicated for the main character despite (or maybe especially because of) the presence of magic in her life. Well done. If you enjoy YA, fairies, Americana, and blues and swing, you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Later note: with a little more time to reflect on this, I’m less certain that I like how it deals with race and Native American beliefs. I feel like it tries, and wants to do a good job, but I’m not certain whether or not it succeeds. Your mileage may vary.

Last Days of Loneliness: Revisions

Hey folks.  No flash fiction for you at the moment, just another piece of story from Last Days of Loneliness, the YA horror novel that I’ve been working on for a while.  Here’s the most recent piece I posted.  I think I’ve rewritten this scene about five times now, but this opening for it just came to me while I was lying in bed last night, so I had to give it a try.  Enjoy!

Continue reading

Last Days of Loneliness: Crucial Exposition

I’ve solved some of my problems in Last Days of Loneliness, I think.  If you read my earlier posts about how things were terrible and how I couldn’t figure out why Amanda knows to kill the eggs with fire, rest assured, I’ve stumbled across an excellent workaround.

I had very similar conversations with Ben and my brother Nate about how to solve my narrator’s knowledge problem, in which they basically said that I should make someone else in the town or cult tell her to use fire to kill the eggs.  I, of course, resisted their advice at first.  I’d had similar thoughts many times previously, and always dismissed them because I thought it made no sense for someone to break the cult’s taboos and try to warn Amanda.  But after talking with both Nate and Ben, who both made it sound so plausible, and then reading some of George Buckenham’s rules for making games on Rock Paper Shotgun, I decided what the hell; I’d go ahead and do as Buckenham suggested.  So I tried the stupid/simple solution.  And I liked it.

Go figure.

What follows is the scene that I thought wouldn’t work, but did.  It comes some time after a scene in which Amanda goes to the police station and overhears an interesting conversation, and long before her ultimate recognition of the information that she is given in this scene.  Enjoy.

Continue reading

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.

The Wizard’s Dilemma, by Diane Duane

JacketWelp, this one took me a long time to finish.  I’m still not quite sure how that happened.  Part of it was that I started the book while I had far too many things on my plate and thus got distracted.  But part of it was that at a certain point in The Wizard’s Dilemma, I felt like I could see where all of the pieces were, where they needed to go, and had a pretty good idea of how they were going to get there… and I really wanted them to just be there already, instead of making me wait.  I suspect that this is the price I pay for reading so much.  Or perhaps for being impatient.

It turns out that I was right about most of those various story beats, but seeing what Diane Duane did with them was far more satisfying than what I’d imagined.  I probably should have seen that coming, given that I’ve read the earlier books in the series and know how good Duane is at her work.  Once I finally got over my block and moved into the last parts of the book, I didn’t want to put it down.  And then, of course, the climax made me cry.  Whatever the real reasons for my reading delays, I feel quite certain in saying that this was an excellent book, one worth reading, worth recommending, and one that leaves me wanting to read the next one in the series.  Just like the previous books in the series.  I probably could have seen that coming too.

So, why the heck did this book make me cry?
Continue reading

Further Troubleshooting: Last Days of Loneliness

Turkey Day approaches.  I’ll be spending a bunch of time with family around then, and for the week after.  This means that I’m unlikely to post much in the next two weeks, though I’ll see if I can scare up a few more interesting posts for you.  This Wednesday will be largely occupied with travel.

Today’s post is going to be a lot like last Wednesday’s, so spoilers abound.  This time I’ll be working through how exactly Amanda ends up deciding to break the town’s covenant with its deity-figure.  Oglaf illustrates the concept quite admirably here (surprisingly SFW, though the rest of the site isn’t).  Enjoy!

Continue reading

Last Days of Loneliness: Writing the Middle is Terrible

My apologies for the much delayed post, I’ve had a moderately busy day: my visit to the optometrist took a bit longer than I’d anticipated, and I’ve started writing this far later than I’d originally planned.  Today’s topic is all about how frustrating I find writing the middle of Last Days of Loneliness.

If you followed that link (or remember the other earlier posts), you should have a pretty good idea of the shape of the story that I’m writing.  Like those posts, this one is going to be full of spoilers… so if you really want to shield yourself you should probably just stop reading.  If you want to read my thoughts as I try to solve the trouble that I’ve run into while trying to make the middle of the book live up to the promise of the premise, you know what to do.

Continue reading