Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Meeting in the Dark - Novel Excerpt #1

Before I send you off into the world of Underking, a little back story is due.  Rather than give you the first part of the story, I have chosen a scene from a bit further on as I felt it would be more interesting.  As a result, there are things you must know.  Previous to this excerpt, our protagonist Joshua Hopkins has determined that it's high time he investigates the abandoned coal mine behind his house, which he has decided must be full of dwarves (or that he's hallucinating - he's a fairly cynical practical teenager in that respect).  So, guided by an apparently magic rune stone (hence the accusation of cynicism), he descends into the mine. However, his little adventure takes a turn for the worse when he realizes something is following him.  Now, running through the dark, he's not watching where he's going...

His feet slid out from under him, losing his footing on a puddle he hadn’t noticed.  Scrambling for a handhold, he slid on his back and found himself falling feet-first into a hole.  It was a short drop, maybe a foot at most, but it knocked the air out of his lungs as he continued to slide.  Trying to protect his head, he lost his grip on the flashlight, and it bounced away in front of him, leaving him in darkness.

He couldn’t tell how long he slid down into the darkness, being tossed to and fro as the seemingly endless hole carried him deeper into the earth.  He was sore and battered and probably bleeding from being flung against the rough stone surrounding him.  He could only hope it ended soon.

At last, the hole opened into a larger space and he was flung out, landing in what seemed to be wet sand.  A quick check found that he still had all his limbs and, thankfully, nothing seemed to be broken.

Now there was just the matter of trying to figure out where he’d ended up.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Problem with Being Dead - Top Ten Tuesday #2

Today's topic for Top Ten Tuesday is:
Top Ten Authors That I'd Put On My Auto-Buy List

Upon reading today's topic, there was a certain amount of tangent thinking that took place before actually considering the topic itself.  When they were coming up with the topics for TTT, I'm sure Broke and Bookish didn't mean for "auto-buy" to be taken literally, but I did so anyway.  After all, the idea of boxes suddenly appearing on your doorstep with crisp, new books in them does have a certain appeal to it.

However, this train of thought merely served as a delay in admitting that I had a slight problem with today's topic.  That is, the majority of my favorite authors are dead and, with the exception of the Tolkien Estate, it is unlikely that they're going to be releasing anything anytime soon.  Calls to several of their former residences resulted in voice mails from some confused current residents.  There was one voice mail from Alexandre Dumas' house that might have been angry.  I can't be sure, it was in French.

All kidding aside, I did manage to rally and come up with a list of authors who I would buy anything they published. It's not quite ten, but close with Wikipedia's help where I couldn't remember a name.

  1. God - Seeing as I don't subscribe to Nietzsche, God still counts.  Easily the most-published author all time, I would gladly read any further writings He puts out. At the very least, it would certainly be amusing to see how they worked out the copyright on that one.
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien - Granted, he is actually dead, but his son Christopher has done a commendable job ensuring that anything his father meant to publish comes to light.  Be it further ventures into Middle Earth, short stories like Roverandom, or translations of classics like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I am up for anything.
  3. Terry Pratchett - Seeing as I have read every book in the Discworld series (except maybe I Shall Wear Midnight - I honestly forget), it would be remiss of me not to include him.  Hoping for more of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg or Moist Von Lipwig!
  4. Brandon Sanderson - Thus far, I have yet to come across anything by Sanderson that I didn't enjoy immensely, and I am hoping the trend continues.  The Way of Kings is an excellent read, if you have the constitution to make it through its 1200+ pages.
  5. Eoin Colfer - I have immensely enjoyed the Artemis Fowl series thus far.  Still have a ways to go but I'm curious to see what else he publishes.
  6. Suzanne Collins - While I do have my reservations about the Hunger Games trilogy (which I will put up here, eventually), I enjoyed them enough that I would gladly give her next book a go.
  7. Cornelia Funke - If you have not yet read the Inkworld books, do so!  They are excellent books, taking a brilliant concept and carrying it to fruition masterfully.
  8. Stephen R. Lawhead - I haven't read much of Lawhead yet, mostly just the Pendragon Cycle, but I intend to keep going having gotten a taste of his work.
  9. John Green - Seeing as I have read all of his books; am subscribed to Vlogbrothers, Crash Course, ReadIt1st; and have a ticket to Vidcon, John Green certainly is deserving of a spot on this list!
And there you have it!  Almost made it to 10, but I couldn't think of a 10th. If you'd like to suggest a 10th, feel free!  I may just give them a try.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Preview of Things to Come

Kevin asks me to remind you all that keyboards are not placemats, and should not be used as such. Personally, I say have at it - he's been using my undershirts to try and make a hot air balloon. I'm not sure if I should be indignant at the abuse of my clothing or worried that he's succeeding.

Moving on from the activities of my cleaning figment - as I stated in my initial post, one of the purposes of this blog was to share some of my previously-written works with those who are interested.  Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to announce that, in 7 days, I will be releasing a short excerpt from one of my long-form works, up to 2,000 words, for you to read.

The tricky part is deciding which one to pull from.

I have, to date, three novels in the works, four if you include one that I lost to hard drive death but could get down on paper again fairly easily if I so chose.  However, I don't feel that one is as well thought out as the others (and one of them is barely thought out at all), so I shall not be putting it into the rotation for consideration.

That being said, here are the two possibilities that you may find some tantalizing bits of waiting for you:
Teind: In the woods of Pennsylvania, Fairies have made for themselves a new home.  Only, these aren't the cute, flittery things that little girls like to imagine.  In fact, if you bring up flittery little things in the presence of some fae folk, they'd probably beat you and leave you in a ditch.  These are the old faeries, found in the really old tales from before the pixies went and ruined everything, and there's no guarantee that they're nice.  One brave (or very foolish) faerie has gone and made a wager he can't keep, and it's up to a ragtag group of fae folk - and some humans they drag into it - to set things right.  But the Teind must be paid, and they will soon find that the lives they might save might just be their own.
Underking: Dwarves. Hardy, industrious, reliable folk.  Master craftsmen, proud warriors, lovers of sagas and song... and that all-night waffle place on I-79.
Josh Hopkins thought his life couldn't get much weirder when his family moved into a big old house in Middle-of-Nowhere West Virginia, but that was before THEY showed up.  Now, he has to corral seven dwarves (not those dwarves) around under his parents' nose, which might be fun if they listened.  But it's not all fun and games, having your very own party of dwarves.  You don't get a reputation for being great warriors if you don't fight any wars, and one's about to break out right under their feet.
 And there you have it!  If you so choose, you may vote for which of these you would like to see, but I shall make the decision on my own if there aren't sufficient votes either way.  This is all I will  be posting for today, as it has been rather hectic and I have a burning desire to sit down and read a book.  That, and I think Kevin got himself stuck in a tree.

One final note - I have surpassed 100 views! Yay! The total right now is 108, with views from four countries!  Thank you to those of you who are taking the time to read this, I truly do appreciate it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This Might Be Cheating... - Top Ten Tuesday #1

Since I have restarted blogging, I've come to wonder what I was thinking in choosing Tuesdays and Thursdays as the days on which I will write as these are the longest days of the week.  If I meant that they somehow defied the standard progression of time and lasted 25 hours instead of the usual 24, this would be "fine", if regrettably insane.  Rather, I mean they are the days on which I spend the most time at the office.  Still, I plan to stick to my schedule regardless of the inconvenience.

As this is my first foray into Top Ten Tuesday, it may also be the first you've heard of it.  Therefore, a quick rundown might be due:

Top Ten Tuesday is a blogging feature conceptualized by the writers of Broke and Bookish.  The rules are simple - each week, there's a new featured topic which you can use to create your list, and then you just link it back to them.  It isn't necessary to come up with ten items for your list, but ten works best both functionally and alliteratively.  Two would be too few, twelve too many, and anything from twenty on up would be considered Cruelty to Bloggers unless it is a very broad topic.

Today's topic is "Top Ten Favorite Characters in X Genre".  Now, the likely assumption would be that the "x" is meant to imply "insert your own choice of genre here".  However, I have decided instead to see it as the algebraic "x", a variable with no set value except when one is applied to it by either the formula or the person working on it.  Thus, I am simply going to list my top ten favorite characters - thankfully, they're mostly characters from fantasy novels, so I am only cheating a little.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cheap Chocolate Day Eve - "Opinion" Piece #1

As I am sitting here, nibbling away at a heart-shaped cookie given to me by a coworker, it would seem appropriate to talk about Valentine's Day, Chocolate Awareness Day, Singles Awareness Day or, if you're really not feeling celebratory, Thursday.

Upon further consideration, I don't think I will.  Besides the fact that the origins of the holiday are dubious at best, there's something about the concept itself that I don't like.

Anyway, let us instead consider the part of the holiday that (almost) all of us can agree that we enjoy...

The chocolate.

Chocolate is, at its base level, a blend of cocoa and a sweetener.  It's slightly more complex than that but this will suffice for now.  The most popular form of this confection, milk chocolate, has an additional base ingredient but if I need to tell you what it is, then you may turn in your diploma(s) and look forward to a successful career as a reality television star... or perhaps a politician.


Chocolate got its start in the Americas, and has since spread to every corner of the world, except maybe North Korea, though I am somewhat unsure on that point. Kim Jong Un didn't get his figure eating sushi, after all.

This does lead to a question - why?  What is it exactly about chocolate that has lead to its rampant popularity?

The most obvious answer would be flavour, but is that all?  Thanks to the increasing connectivity provided by easier travel, immigration, and the internet, different cuisines from around the world have spread to places they wouldn't have been able to in the past. However, chocolate has outdone many of them (for example, more people will willingly eat chocolate than, say, sushi despite the increasing availability thereof).  Even other sweets with equal distribution aren't nearly as popular. Think about it - if you were to offer someone a chocolate bar or a lollipop, how many do you think would take the lollipop?

The second popular theory is the caffeine content, which I'm fairly convinced is bunk.  The average bar of chocolate has only slightly more caffeine than a cup of decaf coffee.  Yes, decaf coffee has caffeine in it, and it's still more than the chocolate so, like I said, bunk.

No, I am fairly convinced the main reason why chocolate is the candy king is because of its versatility.  You can have it as a bar, of course, but you can also drink it, dip things in it, put filling in it, inhale it (I'm not kidding), use it as a seasoning on chicken (still not kidding), and it tastes great with bacon (ditto).  That's just a few of the things you can do with it.  You're never going to see someone make a jolly rancher fountain - it'd look splendid for about fifteen seconds before it hardened and then you'd be stuck with a diabetic lampshade, if you can get it unstuck from the counter.

So in conclusion, it is chocolate's seemingly infinite adaptability that makes it king.  That, and better marketing.  It's really all down to marketing, in the end.

I need to be off now, Kevin's gone and eaten all the chocolate and is turning green... which he's not supposed to be.  He's generally a shade of brown.

Also, the name of this post is a bit of a misnomer.  While there will certainly be lots of leftover candy selling for cheap tomorrow, the BEST day to get clearance candy is November 1st.  See, while your girlfriend/fiance/wife might be disappointed if you buy her sub-par candy, she's probably not going to egg your house for it.

Note I said probably. I can't make any promises.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Stories Over Tea - Short Story Improv #1

The story that follows is something I have decided to refer to as an "improv" - a story that I came up with the concept for and then wrote, on the fly with little to no planning. This first one is a story about an old war veteran and a young boy meeting in a coffee shop.  Enjoy !

~ Dr. Ewan Lowe shuffled to the counter of the coffee shop, collected his cup of tea from the barista, and moved to his usual spot – a worn, sagging leather armchair that seemed to have seen as many years as he had.  In truth, it had not seen quite so many, but it was close.  It had been there longer than the shop - Rick’s - even, the last vestige of the house it once had been.

He sat down with a contented sigh and picked up a newspaper, flipping past the usual eye grabbers – the stories of death and corruption and, of course, the page with the pictures of local children doing the things that their mothers and fathers would insist on showing off to anyone who made eye contact.  It was a small town, so he knew most of the parents and which to avoid after the paper came out.  It was a skill, one he was unabashedly proud of.

At last, he found the editorial section and settled in to read.  It amused him how people felt the First Amendment was their ticket to spread their uneducated opinions on every little thing that came up. Still, they were sometimes insightful, and he didn't see any harm in reading.  It seemed someone should.

He was just getting into a rather lengthy (and incorrect) summation of a recent town hall meeting when he realized that there was someone else in his corner.  Peeling down one corner of the paper, he glanced at the person who had intruded upon his solitude.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Inside Out - "Book Review" #1

Having only just resumed the "blogging thing", I found myself at something of a loss regarding what to actually write about.  Not in the general sense, but in the specific.  Specifically, this, my first actual post. Last night's doesn't count - introductions are mandatory, it's what you write after that matters.

So here's something I was thinking about.

For my birthday, my sister bought me a box set of books by YA novelist John Green.  Perhaps this was meant to be some sort of bribe to cut down on the incessant tin whistling, but it was very much appreciated anyway as I am a big fan of his works.  I owned two of his books, Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars (three if you count his zombicorn novella), but now I owned ALL OF THEM.  Well, those works that are solely attributed to him, but that is an acceptable definition of all.  So I have begun reading the other two, An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska.

John's books all deal, to a varying extent, with loss.  Be it because of death, departure, dumpers, or the nigh-unstoppable globalization of manufacturing, it's in there somewhere.  Just as we ourselves must do when facing loss, the characters within must come to terms with this loss however they can.

However, this isn't what makes John's books interesting.  Sure, loss can be a gripping story element - it's difficult to imagine the Grapes of Wraith would have as great an impact if it hadn't been placed in the Great Depression, and it is equally difficult to imagine that Moby Dick would be as interesting a story if Captain Ahab hadn't been driven mad by his desire for revenge against the whale to whom he lost his leg.  ...When put like that, it almost sounds like they were playing poker together.  Unnecessary spoiler:  They weren't.

No, what makes them truly interesting books is the characters.  Only, not the main characters.  Be it the irreverent but likable Hassan, the troubled Alaska, or the Black-Santa-Besieged Radar, they all seem to be far more fascinating than the main character (I make an exception for Hazel, who I find holds her own the best of the narrators).  They seem to act as canvases upon whom the others paint their own stories, acting on their own only as a reaction to outside influence.  Pudge and Alaska; Colin and Hassan & Lindsey; Q and Margo. The stories are different, but this narrative framework holds true for them all.

While this may seem like a fault to some, this isn't the case.  The reason for this is not so much that the other characters ARE more fascinating than the narrators, but because that is how we often imagine others. As the narrators are only human, albeit fictional ones, they do so as well.

John Green is fond of talking about the need to imagine others complexly.   Often, when we look at others, we only see the surface things - those traits that they publicly display.  Other times, we attempt to shape them into what we think they should be, which are often reflections of ourselves.  If we assume that either of these are the total sum of who this person is, we are committing a great injustice because we fail to see them for who they truly are.  It is also unjust to ourselves, as we run the risk of comparing ourselves to something akin to an Ubermensch that we have made them into in our heads.  Colin makes this mistake when he assumes that Hassan is a sort of emotional Achilles, unaffected by anything that goes on around him (despite the dingleberries).

There probably isn't a human being on earth (at least, not one who isn't insufferably egotistical) who doesn't carry with them their own fears, insecurities, and secrets.  Some have less than others, some have more, but they all have them, and they are pieces of the puzzle that make up who they are, pieces we usually don't get to see.  If you were to ask them, and they opened up and told you, they probably wouldn't find themselves as fascinating as you do.  To them, they are just themselves.  To them, being excellent at, for example, pottery or writing or taking ideas and spinning them on their heads is just part of who they are.  In fact, they might find you more fascinating than you do.

It's all a matter of perspective - we spend our whole lives inside these little bubbles called our heads and it can be incredibly difficult to understand what is going on in the little bubbles of those around us.  It takes time and trust, both of which can be hard to obtain in sufficient measure.  Wouldn't it be helpful if sometimes to see ourselves as others do - just take our minds and turn them inside out?

~~ As you may have noticed, this isn't your typical book review (at least, not as I imagine them in my head... I haven't read all that many).  I don't have a problem with the typical format, I just personally wouldn't want to write that when I can see that there are better (aka more meaningful) things to discuss.  While it's important as a reviewer to write about what you felt while reading a book, it is equally valid to write about what you thought - either while reading or as a result thereof.  They might not be original - what I've said here has been said before, but it matters no less for it.

A lot of what I like to read doesn't lend itself to the sort of mental exercise that these books do, so there will be some more conventional reviews.  Later though, not tonight.  I think this post has gone on quite long enough, don't you?

Kevin says hello

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Introduction (by Way of Rambling)


Well, not really, he's only here on the weekends to do the tidying up.  His name's Kevin.*

As I am soldiering through this, my first attempt at blogging in some two years, I am surrounded by furniture that is nearly - but not quite - TARDIS blue.  It's a little too purple in tone, but that does little to dampen my enthusiasm for the idea of turning my wardrobe into a TARDIS.  

Which tells you absolutely nothing, except that I happen to like Doctor Who.

For those of you who may have stumbled across this via a friend or perhaps even a particularly specific Google search that somehow brought you here of all places, this will serve as an introduction.

My name is Sean. I'm currently 25, though mentally I am somewhere between 4 and 97, depending on my access to socialization, coffee, and/or sugar.  I work for a newspaper publisher, assisting the people who make sure that the mom & pop shops get a voice too.  In my free time, I like to write (passably), draw (acceptably), play computer games (predictably), play tin whistle (to my sister's dismay), photograph things (amateurishly), and collect items that, to a varying degree, can best be described as "esoteric".  To save you the trouble of looking up this word if you don't know it, I can tell you that it is, essentially, synonymous with "nerdy".
I'm also a Christian, and a conservative republican.  This WILL affect my viewpoint on certain things that I may or may not choose to post on (though I dislike discussing politics, so there's one thing we can agree on regardless of our party affiliation).

Moving on, the purpose of this blog is threefold.  These purposes are:

  1. To entertain.  Whether or not I manage that will largely depend on you... and I'm not going to quote that Russel Crowe film.  When viewed from a broad perspective, he had it fairly easy - Take sword, shove pointy end in other fellow with sword, everyone's happy. I'm just guessing at this point, though I can probably rule out the "stabbing people with swords" thing.  I can't see people lining up for that one and, frankly, it seems a waste of humanity.
  2. To placate relatives.  Okay, maybe "placate" isn't the best word choice but it was that or mollify and I can't spend all night deciding which to use.  Anyway, several members of my family have asked me at numerous points if they could see some of what I've written.  I tend to be... a little bit protective of the stories I write. "Little Bit" being defined here as "zealously as the dragon doth guard his gilded hoard".  Admittedly, this isn't the best way to collect constructive criticism, so this is my... attempt to share.
  3. To create. Writing long form works such as Teind and Underking (which almost none of you know anything about yet) is rewarding in its way, but they have yet to deliver on that most enjoyable sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing something.  This is meant to rectify that somewhat by providing a less demanding creative outlet.
Ok, now that's done with, it's time to move on to the really really important bit - what to expect from this.
  1. Two posts a week, on Tuesday's and Thursday's or Friday's.  This number is both the minimum AND the maximum, barring weekly/monthly challenges.  This isn't replacing anything else, but an addition.  If anything, I'm probably going to cut out time spent on computer games.  This will be the only Wednesday post for the foreseeable future - Wednesday is chill time (if chill time is allowed to mean "trying to catch up my Bible in a Year reading).
  2. Less lists.  In trying to get everything I feel needs to be said (HA!) in this first post, there are an inordinate number of lists. I promise this will be the last one in this post that will be a numbered list.
  3. Shorter posts. I will probably be writing these over lunch, which is a lot shorter than the time I've been writing this.
  4. Content - there will be book reviews, photo posts (with related text, no cop out posts!), thoughts on things I've recently learned, philosophical observations, musical compositions, updates on my life, whatever else I choose to discuss, and maybe some of those Top Ten Tuesday things that my sister does (there will be a link to her blog at some point on this site, if there is not already).
Finally, in conclusion, I offer a warning to my English and Writing major friends - I am fond of parenthetical statements (as you have probably noticed), ending sentences with prepositions, the Oxford comma, and generally writing things as I feel they should be written, regardless of any grammatical rules that might be broken in the process.  This isn't a paper that I'm submitting to a professor, so I will be floating somewhere between conversational and the rambling academic style I sometimes employ when I'm feeling "fancy". Consider yourselves warned.

* Any resemblance to real-world Kevin's is purely coincidental.