Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Taco Seasoning and Fantasy Exposition

After reading two of Max Gladstone’s recent books back-to-back, I'm kind of in the mood to take on some fantasy and sci-fi (currently known as speculative fiction, I think) novels.  Preferably those novels with an ethnic lead for a voice that identifies closely with my own (ala Octavia Butler perhaps). Also through a female protagonist, as I have absolutely no interest in your a-typical guy wielding a sword or commanding some otherworldly space craft. I would also like something with compound world-building built into reflecting our world.  Sort of like how Gladstone takes on our economics with a fantasy twist relating fallen gods and soul letting as a form of currency.  Though that last part isn't so, so necessary when I would gladly trade gods for unicorns and mermaids. 

The problem is that I don't read much fantasy and sci-fi to find authors who manage what I'm looking for.  Wait, that is authors outside of the urban fantasy sub-genre–which combines a lot of real-world mechanics with fantasy and supernatural constructs. And maybe there’s a reason why I don't pick up much fantasy and sci-fi. That reason would most likely come down to the level of exposition needed to build a world.  Example: take Kim Harrison's Cincinnati-based urban fantasy Hollows series in contrast to a 500 page high fantasy novel written by Mercedes Lackey. Oh, yeah. There is a serious difference in levels of necessary exposition required to build between each of these authors and their individual worlds. And that’s where I always take issue, after having picked up my first high fantasy novel by Lackey, By the Sword, when I was fourteen. At the time I remember thinking how this was it; a big, sweeping fantasy novel in my hands. A woman with a sword and a horse and adventures abound. Until I got burned by the level of attention required to understand exactly what was happening to this woman, her horse, and her adventures.

Now, granted I was fourteen and still discovering myself in my Animorphs books, before and throughout high school. And as I said before, if there's one fantasy book that I love more than anything, it's T. A. Barron's The Ancient One.  So I was a little (I stress "little") in the range of Lacky at the time, and it wasn't unusual for a teen to pick up an adult fantasy novel and read it cover to back. Nonetheless, like a phantom pain, I never quite got over how demanding By the Sword was. Subsequently, turning me away from many high fantasy and hard science sci-fi books throughout the years.

The point I'm trying to make in this post is that–while I love fantasy novels–the truth is that I can’t always take on the commitment required to digest the world-building properly. And much of that world-building shows up in exposition.  But seriously, after the toe-dipping in Gladstone, I've come to the conclusion that I (and many others who tend to pass high fantasy and sci-fi) just have to find those who write with a good balance of exposition throughout the storytelling to keep us hanging on.

So I kind of think of exposition like making a taco casserole come out right. Put too much taco seasoning in the mix and it becomes a bad explosion of flavor-override (and a hiked sodium intake). Too much flavor kills the whole dish. However, put too little taco seasoning and you'll have a bland casserole without any special flavor to give it that Mexican kick. So yeah, I’ll relate that analogy to how using exposition in fantasy and sci-fi books takes a careful balancing act. But basically, the “taco seasoning” is the information an author gives his or her reader regarding the make-up (or world-building) of their story. If you put too much “taco seasoning” in, you can’t get the information together, as it’s overloading you while muddling the story. And if you add too little “taco seasoning,” you can’t seem to gather a sense of order to the events taking place within the story. And that’s what I find holds me back from these two genres. Either I'm overwhelmed with information, or underwhelmed (mainly overwhelmed concerning the context of this post). The end result consist of me ditching the book and moving on to something a little less of a reading tribulation.

Accomplishing that exposition balance in fantasy and sci-fi novels has to be uniquely hard because those stories take place in worlds unfamiliar and beyond our own. So not only is an author responsible for teaching the operations and rules of his or her world, but also the characters have to be given fuel and life to push the reader along. I suppose the secret is to give the reader all of this information carefully. And gradually. And with the use of suggestions like crumbs of information guiding them along the way. That’s why I'm going to try to break out of my so-so stumpy summer reading slump by diving back into Mercedes Lackey’s By the Sword. Like I said, it kind of broke me from fantasy as an unprepared teen. Now, seventeen years later, I think I can finally, finally do this. I’m going to take my time. Wish me luck!

Are there any genres you often find yourself avoiding? Was there a book that put you in the position to avoid it? Share your thoughts below!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Beginning to End with Ms. Josephine

"Can you trust God for all things in every area of your life?  Have you ever been faced with life-threatening situations in your marriage, that made you want to give up on God, but he allowed you to be stable, keeping you still in order to see the salvation of the Lord in your flesh, mind and resources, etc.  Psalms 46:10a, 'Be still and know that I am God.'

Have you ever seen God transform the Natural into the Super-Natural?  From the beginning to the end.  When your mother tells you are not able to have children because of your unproductive organs, no menstrual period, no nothing.  Then you meet your husband that tells you all things are possible if ye only believe.  Later on God blesses you and your husband with two lovely daughters, when doctors said live with the fact you will never have children."

This is a special, special post on a book by a woman I know personally.  Her name is Josephine Brooks-Clark, but we just call her Ms. Josephine!  Anyway, over a year ago she told me that she was working on writing and publishing a book inspired by her life with her passed husband.  She used to tell me that she had the necessary files and was ready to go to work!  Needless to say, I was ecstatic and encouraged by her; always inspired by people who make energizing commitments to share a part of themselves for the betterment of others.  And that’s precisely what Ms. Josephine did in her debut memoir, From the Beginning to the End, published by ABM Publications.

With a couple of hash browns and a cup of coffee, I sat down one morning to read Ms. Josephine’s book.  I didn't find myself out of bed until all 84 pages were read.  So I sat, fully grasped by her story outside of our old conversations.  From the Beginning to the End is a very personal memoir, so personal that I had to reach out to Ms. Josephine to bring her to Comic Towel to talk about her book first-hand.  Follow my questions and her response (in bold lettering) below...

1.  From The Beginning to the End opens with a testimony from yourself regarding your personal story.  So how did you decide where to start your story specifically?  As well as where to end it?

From the Beginning to the End starts with my testimony. How I got started? One day I was dealing with so many things going on in my life.  So while lying in bed, it came to me to start my life story of all I was going through. I was only 34 [at the time] and life began to make a turn from the good to the worst.  

I decided to end it [the book] after the death of my husband.  All that I was going through with sickness after sickness had [finally] ended. Thank God.

2.  I could only imagine how you dealt with some of the actual events and details you shared within your story–as they were happening in your life.  If you had to choose, what was probably the hardest detail to share with readers regarding your life?  And why was it hard to share?

The hardest part to share with my readers is when we were robbed.  THIS IS A STICK-UP [Chapter 4].  It was hard because every time I begin to speak of that situation, it bring tears to my eyes to see my hubby tied up in a knot and my two girls with a gun at their head.

3.  Could you offer any advice to someone who desires to share their personal story, such as yourself?  Does emotional distance take part in the writing process?

First I would say let fear of the unknown go, meaning fear of sharing your life because of friends that may read your story and criticize you.  I felt that if I shared my story, someone will be blessed to know that they can make it through the hard times. It is love that kept us together [her husband and herself] and my vows that I made to God and Man. In Sickness or Health, Richer or Poor, and for Better or for Worse.  

No, emotional distance has nothing to do with writing. When I left Alabama, it gave me the peace and quietness I needed to concentrate on writing.  This book was completed years ago, but fear of the unknown kept me from getting published.  

4.  If there is one thing you would wish to communicate and inspire into those who've read your book, what would that be?

I would like to impart that the beginning of a new thing shall come your way. Every door that has been closed unto you shall be opened, and every crooked path shall be made straight.  September and October are the months of increase, so don't put off today for tomorrow.

5.  Now that your book has been released, where do you plan to go from here?  Are there more books at work?

Since my first book has been released, my plans are to take a portion of my funds to feed the less fortunate. And yes, there are other books being published.

1. Seven Steps to Empower your Faith
2. The Seed of a Woman (both natural and spiritual)
3. Why Hurting People Hurt Others.
4. Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman

Thank you so, so much Ms. Josephine for sharing your story and giving me the opportunity to help share it with others.  

You can grab your copy of Ms. Josphine's book, From the Beginning to the End. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014


It's been a while since I've intermingled a Youtube post with a blog post.  Not that that's something for me to keep note of–or anybody else for that matter.  Nevertheless, I finally got the opportunity to do so with this tag.  This is the Book Cake Tag.  I was tagged by another Booktuber, Kristinathebookworm.  This was a fun tag to get creative with... plus... everyone loves cake.  With that being said, I'll employee the video, questions, books, and a little concerning my response to each book below.  Please, enjoy!

Cake Book Tag Ingredients:

1.  Flour - A book that was slow at the beginning, but picked up as it moved along?

I chose Toni Morrison's Jazz to fulfill this ingredient.  For the sake of not repeating myself, I'll include what I wrote in a post earlier this year concerning my feelings after reading the book:

"Seems a little off I'm sure.  It's not that I disliked the book, it just wasn't what I'd hoped for.  I've learned that much of Morrison's material post-80's has what I see as a distracting dip in vivid prose and language.  The problem for me is that that "distracting" sometimes lures me away from gathering some sense of the plot of the book, or even the order of the plot.  Add in the multiple themes and narratives in JazzI just didn't leave fully connected with overall story.  However, some of the individual narratives in the book stood so strongly that it was like reading an individual short story inside the book.  Glimpses of pieces of the past that made the two main characters was where I enjoyed the book the most.  In any regard, it's definitely a book that needs a second, focused read."

2.  Margarine - A book that had a really rich and great plot?

Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian immediately came to mind to fulfill this "margarine" question.  There are many rich books out there, but one that pound so many genres of richness is The Historian.  From horror (I actually was creeped out by this book), adventure, mystery, and a touch of romance; it was a book that sailed with reading calories.  In a good way.  I was actually surprised that–as of late–it has gotten so many one-star reviews on Goodreads.  I guess it's a matter of taste.  Nonetheless, what is upsetting is how I can't seem to pick up my copy of Kostova's second book, The Swan Thieves.  Why have I not read you yet!  Why must you sit on bookshelf collecting dust!

3.  Eggs - A book that you thought was going to be bad, but turned out to be quite enjoyable?

That would be Trista Russell's Fly on the Wall.  I picked this book up years ago during a library bookstore browse.  I wanted to try something in close range with authors of African-American relationship books similar to Eric Jerome Dickey's (who I was big on back then).  My hesitation was believing that it was going to be horribly written, sort of like those Street Lit books I experimented with during my bookstore days in Atlanta.  Yesh!  They had great premises, but some bad, bad execution.  Well, to be precise, some bad, bad, BAD grammar and editing.  Like, deplorably bad!  Nonetheless, Fly on the Wall was nothing like that.  It's basically a story that follows a 32-year-old teacher who develops a relationship with one of her students.  And it was a fantastic read.  I read it in a single night.  As I said in the video, everyone I've let borrow the book seemed to have read it quickly too.  It was hard to put down once it got started.

Taken from the blurb...

"His Story: 'I could have any chick at West Dade Senior High, but I went after the one I was told couldn’t be broken, Ms. Patrick, my English teacher and my coach’s ex-wife. It started with me proving something to myself, but ended with me trying to prove to her that I was all the man she’d ever need.' 

Her Story: 'I struggled to treat him like any other student. All I asked was that he arrive to class on time and I encouraged him to complete class assignments. However, the lustful way he looked at me, the intimate things his words implied, and the way his fingers taunted my skin, was powerful enough for me to put my career on the line.' 

The Truth: A thirty-two-year-old teacher entered an inappropriate relationship with a student, but what the headlines didn’t say was that the student, Theo Lakewood, was eighteen (of legal age), extremely handsome, a senior, and a star basketball player at West Dade Senior High, relentlessly pursued her, ceaselessly studied her, and painstakingly seduced her. Of course she could’ve ignored his advances, but she welcomed him with open arms. Only a Fly on the Wall would know exactly how he conquered her. 

Ever wish that you were a Fly on the Wall? Wish no more. Spread your wings and get ready to read all of the juicy forbidden details from behind closed doors with Theo and Paige."

4.  Sugar - A sugary, sweet book?

I chose Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui.  Really, I looked around the shelves and couldn't find anything sugary and sweet.  Every book I own contains either murder or something else horrible and twisted.  I can say that Shanghai Baby qualified as "twisted", but who's counting?  Still, I'll also go out on a limb and say the book is sweet because of all that the main protagonist, Coco, puts up with between her two lovers.  Something I wouldn't have the patience for between a married man and a drug addicted lover.  Amazon summarizes it best:

"Set in the centuries-old port city of Shanghai, the novel follows the days, and nights, of the irrepressibly carnal Coco, who waits tables in a cafĂ© when she meets her first lover, a sensitive Chinese artist. Defying her parents, Coco moves in with her boyfriend and enters a frenzied, orgasmic world of drugs and hedonism. But, helpless to stop her gentle lover's descent into addiction, Coco becomes attracted to a boisterous Westerner, a rich German businessman with a penchant for S/M and seduction. Now, with an entourage of friends ranging from a streetwise madame to a rebellious filmmaker, Coco's forays into in the territory of love and lust cross the borders between two cultures -- awakening her guilt and fears of discovery, yet stimulating her emerging sexual self. Searing a blistering image into the reader's imagination, Shanghai Baby provides an alternative travelogue into the back streets of a city and the hard-core escapades of today's liberated youth. Wei Hui's provocative portrayal of men, women, and cultural transition is an astonishing and brave exposure of the unacknowledged new China, breaking through official rhetoric to show the inroads of the West and a people determined to burst free."

Hmmm... it's been a long time, but suddenly I want to re-read this book?

5.  Icing - A book that covered every single element that you enjoy in a book? 

I won't–but will–say Valerie Wilson Wesley's Tamara Hayle private investigator series covers everything I enjoy in a book.  There's always a lot more to it, you know.  However, as I mentioned in the video, it does cover what I want to write should I give myself the time to write.  Or finish the book I've been working on for two years and haven't gotten past chapter four yet.  Okay, okay.  Let me just make it clear that I enjoy this series for two things: a black woman with a PI license.  Sold.  As of now the series spans eight books, beginning with When Death Comes Stealing.  Former cop turned PI, Tamara Hayle, is called to investigate a series of murders surrounding her ex-husband and his offsprings from past relationships.  A reluctant Tamara takes his case, where she immediately realizes her own son is a target of the killer.  And I have to say, it was a simple but crafty read.  I'll have to write more on this series soon.

6.  Sprinkles - A book that you can turn to when you need a pick-me-up? 

Seeing that I'm not the best at rereading books (unlike when I was a broke teenager and had no choice), I don't reread books that often.  Therefore, I don't exactly have a book that I turn to when I'm down–unless you count something written by authors like Louise Hay or Marianne
Williamson.  Nevertheless, there is a manga artist who I love and worship.  She also created two manga series that taught me everything I know about life, creativity, and following your dreams.  Well... and love to a minutiae degree.  For the sake of not going overboard in this arena, the two manga series I revisit year-round (as well as watch the anime year-round) is Naoko Takeuchi Sailor V and Sailor Moon series.  What better resource to get through life with?

7.  Cherry On Top - All time favorite book of this year?  

That would have to go to Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns.  Having already wrote about the book, I'll provide a link to that post HERE.

Thank you all for joining in on the fun!  Please, share your thoughts in the comments section below if you've read any of these books or want to read them.  Actually, go out and do this tag yourself and share it with everyone!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

'Flects on Gladstone's Five

"On the island of Kavekana, priestess Kai builds gods to order–sort of.  Sub-sentient idols, Kai's creations are perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen who want to protect their wealth and power while operating in the Old World.  For beyond the ocean, true desires still thrive, untouched by the God Wars that transformed the city-states of Alt Coulumb and Dresediel Lex.

When Kai tries to save a friend's dying idol, she's gravely injured–then sidelined from the business, her near-suicidal rescue attempt seen as proof of her instability.  But when Kai tires of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and digs into the cause of the idol's death, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear that will break her if she can't break it first."

It took me seventeen days to finally finish reading Max Gladstone‘s Full Fathom Five; therefore, in the famous words of Bernadette Cooper (from the 80s band Klymaxx), I’m “much, much unhappy about that.” However, that’s probably not relevant when, really, I was preoccupied with sweet diversions. Even so, in a way, my taking forever to finish the book had to do with its pacing, which appeared a lot slower than the previous two books in the series. And that’s okay. Slower pacing isn't a bad thing at all.  Every reading experience shouldn't feel like an emergency. Besides, I understood the world-building and magical laws a little better in this particular Craft Sequence book because of its steady dishing.  The problem was that it became one of those books I could guiltlessly put down and pick back up later. 

In retrospect, either I didn't feel the hook of the premise, or it just took me forever and a day to be totally immersed and interested in it. Furthermore, once I finally understood the occurring plot (stimulating themes reflecting economics and gods) did I find how most of the fussing led to a sort of weak finale. I was hoping for that stopping-the-bad-guy rush I found in the previous two books, whereas Five ended a little more on the conversational debate side.  At least from where I stood.  Though it was light years better than this poor example, Five's ending kind of reminded me of those dull J. D. Robb moments where Eve Dallas spends the entire book chasing a killer only to corner him safely in an interrogation room after a casual pick-up.  Where's the fun in that!?  Battle that ish out on paper! 

For some areas surrounding the narrative–which switches mainly between Kai [see synopsis] and a teenage thief name Izza–I'm still kind of questioning some information in relation to the unfolding story. Okay, I’ll be specific in stating those areas filled with esoteric discussions about gods speaking to humans kind of lost me. Just a little. And really, it wouldn't have been so hard to follow if I had a little more explanation in the beginning concerning just who these gods were and represented.  That... was a little on the enigmatic side to me.  The Blue Lady, the Eagle, the Squid.  Help me out just a little bit here, because I obviously missed something.  Especially when I think about the god in Three Parts Dead who was supposedly dead, but hid right under everyone's nose as the fire to Abelard's cigarette.  Or the god caged and used underneath a water treatment plant in Two Serpents Rise.  In comparison, those gods seemed real and tangible in a sense.  The gods in Full Fathom Five seemed... well... like totems and tulpas.

Now, I know. I know. It sounds like I didn't like the book. Even so, the truth is that I did–and for several reasons. The first being that Kai is a transgender woman. My mouth split into a grin as page 31’s dialogue read:

Ms. Kavarian: “How did you remake yourself?”
Kai: “I was born in a body that didn't fit.”
Ms. Kavarian: “Didn't fit in what way?”
Kai: “It was a man’s…”

That… was exciting. However, while I was happy her being transgender wasn't the bedrock to her overall story, there was nothing else interesting nor... dexterous... produced from it. Okay, so thankfully it didn't take over the plot, but I kind of wanted her to talk about it just a smidget or two more.  Especially because I know individuals who identify as transgender. So my question was how this is implicated in a fantasy novel, given how she achieved this change in ways wondrous and unlike anything anyone could imagine. Maybe that’s just my curiosity speaking. Nonetheless, considering each book in the Craft Sequence series is mostly a standalone, I’m going to be sad if I don’t see Kai again. I can say that while it took me forever and a day to read Full Fathom Five, I thoroughly enjoyed Kai’s company the entire way. In many respects, I liked her degrees more than Tara from the first book.

So with that being said, the second lead, Izza, was rather hit-or-miss with me.  I never quite connected with her and her purpose.  She seemed really B-plot motivated in some areas, despite having a bigger role in the book.  I think I would've liked it better if she and Kai partnered sooner.  It just would've seemed right if some commitments and pledges were made earlier in the story between the two.  But with each (Kai and Izza) finding herself preoccupied with returning characters from Gladstone's previous two books, I can see why this didn't happen.

Still, there were plenty of other elements I really enjoyed in Full Fathom Five. One of those being this sort of policing creature called Penitents. Imagine having your body sucked into a giant, humanoid size piece of amethyst rock.  Then suddenly your mind is tased and controlled to direct the will of a giant stone creature that holds you prisoner. Scary stuff.  As for the image on the right, that's what Penitents make me think of for some reason. 

As always, mystery and corporate politics collide with fantasy and imagination in a Gladstone book.  Furthering my love of his work!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Moldavite Oil & Anyolite

Share, share, share!  Another post on a few items related to metaphysics and spirituality.  Yesterday (8/16), my best friend and I went to our favorite spiritual and metaphysical gift shop, The Dream Maker, to "renew" ourselves once again.  It's sort of like the place to go when you need a metaphysical pick-me-up after months of dealing with the foolishness of life and irrational individuals who attempt to suck it out of you.  So when it's time to go, it's time to go.  

I've stopped thinking about the specific things I want to get out of each Dream Maker trip.  These days I let the store and Spirit tell me what I need upon each visit.  So that day I walked out with a tumbled anyolite stone and a vial of Moldavite oil.  Plus, a new pouch to keep my traveling stones and crystals in, considering I keep busting each pouch I own.  Nonetheless, I'm just going to share a little explanation on the anyolite stone and the Moldavite oil as it pertains to their packaging and information cards.  If you've used any of these on your spiritual path, please share your experience in the comments section below.  Later, in a future post, I'll be sure to share mine.

"Moldavite is the product of a meteor collision with Earth nearly 15 million years ago.  It feel over what is now called the Moldau River valley in Czech Republic.  These green Gems are among the most rare minerals on earth.  They have been prized by humans for thousands of years and are still given as gifts from royalty to royalty.  In legend, it is believed Moldavite was the green stone in the Holy Grail and has the power to quicken one's spiritual evolution.

Even people not sensitive to the energies of stones, often feel the energy of Moldavite.  Many sense it as heat, tingling or pulsing sensation in their hand.  Others feel a rush of energy through their body, usually upwards out the top of their head.  Moldavite's high vibrational energy is a powerful chakra opener, particularly at the heart and above.  Sleeping with Moldavite activities the Dream State.  Wearing it helps manifest positive life changes."

The Moldavite oil is new to The Dream Maker.  Or at least I would've noticed it on my last visit.  I've dealt with incenses made with the essence of Moldavite, so at the last second (while I was being rung up), I turned around and walked right into that inner tugging that kept telling me to try the oil too.  And I love it.  Like a vial of perfume, I dabbed a few drops behind the ears immediately (though its uses vary in accordance with the user's imagination).  The oil has this green, pine and spicy scent to it that isn't bad at all.  Then again, it kind of reminds of the smell of hair grease.  Nonetheless, already inside the vial is a small piece of Moldavite.  When I got home, I added the broken pieces of my first Moldavite chunk into the mix, creating three pieces total soaking in the oil.  And further stimulating the elixir, so to speak.

In my usual silly way, I asked one of the shopkeepers could I drink the oil.  He didn't think it was a good idea.  Nonetheless, Moldavite is a form of tekitie, deriving from a meteorite.  In metaphysics, it is a known as the stone of rapid transformation.  I can say that in the past two years since I've obtained my first piece, "rapid transformation" rings true.  And now I'm ready for the next step.  Which is why I jokingly asked could I ingest the oil to speed the process of change.

The information card from The Dream Maker describes anyolite in the next quote.  "Legends say:  A 'stone of nobility'; assists one in selecting and attaining one's ultimate values; stimulates emotional nurturing; brings spiritual wisdom, health, knowledge, wealth; improves success in controversies and disputes; encourages one to follow bliss; brings lucidity to the dream state."

Needless to say, it sounded like a good fit for me and my desires.  Lately, I've been desperate to let go of the past.  That would include mistakes and people.  So far 2014 has shown me that the only way for me is forward, always looking ahead and never back.  To look back is to go backwards, inviting old headaches and troubles that Life has already seen me through.  So anyolite seemed like a good choice to add to my collection of stones and crystals–for that purpose.  As long as I stay committed to sharing my passions, I don't think I can go wrong as life continues to open up doors before me.  While shutting others behind.  And I'm down for that 100%.  If it don't resonate, it don't create.

PS.  The cute pouch bag was made in Guam.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Girl Who Got Abandoned

There's a reason I terminated this drawing before I got into watercoloring it: it felt too unbalanced to finish!  Now, I've never claimed to be the best at drawing, but I can't lie to myself when sometimes a drawing feels wrong.  This would be one of the many occassions where I abandoned a drawing.  This one in particular kind of got wobbly during the sketching process.  I changed her hair, pose, angle, and background one too many times and got lost.  Still trying to push my way through to find that "gold"–I never really found it.  It's kind of like how in life when we push and push against something that we want, and it pushes back with resistance, we end up making a mess of everything.  It's better to just... go with the flow.  Nevertheless, considering this was going to be a series of images illustrating the drawing's progress (see Gold Fleur post), I managed to capture a few of its early moments and nothing more.  I felt it had so much promise in the sketched stages, though.

I really started to fumble when I couldn't figure out exactly what I wanted to do with the hands.  Those damn hands.  Always the hands!  I should've taken them out completely and left it simple, comical and as ethereal as possible.  But no... I wanted to try to push it.

Just... I don't know at this point.  I'm still confused about what hair color I was shooting for.  She was initially suppose to be my character Shi Shi (blue hair and all), but it just didn't seem to come together like I'd hoped.  Eh... oh well...

This wouldn't have bothered me so much had I got her pose right from the jump.  But like a slippery slope, I further got discouraged at the shape of her nose, while finding her lips too small for my liking.  I like big lips.  I also didn't get the full roundness and shape of her eyes.  So... I abandoned ship!  It just felt missing.

Anyway, I always said I would share my not-so-happy drawings as well as the ones I do think turned out as good as I could get them.  So what do you think?  Should I continue forward?  Or should I just regroup and start anew?  How do you handle a disappointing drawing project?  Do you fight the current or jump ship to start somewhere fresh?  Comment below.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Still Mad Shadows Inquiries Series Ended

As I take my time reading Max Gladstone’s Full Fathom Five, I decided now may be a good time to talk about two urban fantasy series that I’m still (after two years) upset have ended.  These were really short-lived series, I have to say.  Both unfairly, but fairly, extinguished before they could truly rise.  I say fairly in concerns to publishers, profits and popularity.  But unfair, nonetheless.  Personally, I found the two series were incredible, different, and refreshing from mainstays and overrated authors in the same genre.  I'm so fussy and picky about this genre, and have to admit that many veteran authors in urban fantasy have overstayed their welcome like foreign houseguest walking over tatami mats with their Nikes on.  And it sucks when new authors come in every year employing some of the failed mechanics of the veterans.  But like I said, these two authors/series were different.

The first series I want to write about is my favorite out of the two, and that’s Lyn Benedict’s Shadows Inquiries series.  The series ran from 2009-2012, spanning a meager four books before Ace cancelled it.  I'm not really clear what caused the cancellation, other than the normal suspicions of poor marketing mixed with poorer sales (underrated as ever).  However, I think that it all boiled down to the series star, Sylvie Lightner, and the astonishing realization that… well… readers didn't like her.  I’ve read several reviews and discussion board conversations where readers expressed how unlikable she was.  I tried to understand where this dislike was coming from.  However, in the end, I was still left wondering.  Was it because she wasn't your traditional kick-ass female lead?  Or was it because she did kick ass, and didn't whine about it?  Is it because she didn't spend the majority of her time trying to get in bed with vampires and werewolves (which weren't present in the series; Benedict went above and beyond those tired creatures)?  In turn, she actually worked her butt off solving cases without distraction.  Needless to say, I was surprised by the response readers took over Sylvia.  

I absolutely loved and adored Sylvie–mainly because she was the reversal to many of her "peers" in the genre.  She, truly, revived my faith in the urban fantasy genre.  She was hard, worthy of deconstruction, inventive, stanch, and loving all in one.  And if that wasn't enough, she had a cast of family and friends that balanced her edge as a PI specializing in magic, old gods, and the occult.  So I suppose she got love where it mattered.  Nevertheless, even as I write this, I'm getting upset at how nobody [readers] seemed to get her, whereas I thought she was great and deserved at least a fifth book.  Really, I identified with her spunk and willpower.  And I may be wrong for saying this, but maybe I believed in her because I'm a guy and am hardly in need of a strong romance element to keep me interested.  Which Lyn Benedict added to her series in a cool and judiciously agreeable manner.

So, enough pedestal-talk.  My job is to encourage you to try this series before it goes out of print or existence somewhere within the sea of kick-ass urban fantasy series gone bye-bye.  Where should I start then?  How about what Shadows Inquiries series is about?

We are introduced to PI Sylvie Lightner and Benedict's fantastic world-building in the first book, Sins & Shadows.  Taking place in an alternate version of modern day Miami (as most urban fantasy series do), Sylvie is a license private investigator who specializes in cases related to the supernatural and occult.  This would include cases consisting of reviving fallen gods, and burning demons out of possession.  While all this seems like a difficult and dangerous profession for a human, the truth is that Sylvie is a descendant of Lilith (more on who that is below).  This gives Sylvie a supernatural resistant to any type of dark magic, allowing her to go places, break spells, and face monsters outside of human restraint.  Additionally, she can kill the unkillable.  And Lilith, the bearer of demons/monsters and the first wife of Adam from the Bible’s Old Testament, makes her appearance throughout each of Sylvie’s cases.  Lilith's role becomes one that urges Sylvie to put aside her human morals and follow her natural, killer instincts.  Consequently, becoming the New Lilith, an immortal being.  

That is the conundrum Sylvie faces.  She straddles the line of acting on her budding bloodlust through the persuasion of Lilith and maintaining her humanity.  And it doesn't help that government corporations, such as the Internal Surveillance and Intelligence agency (ISI), has an eye on Sylvie and her activities in relation to their own agenda of stopping supernatural corruption among humans.  Therefore, the question remains: is Sylvie a threat to humans like the monsters she hunts?  As for the Magicus Mundi, an enigmatic place where the monsters and dark magic swim from to torment mankind; what would it take for them to stop Sylvie from killing them off?


While there are a few allies Sylvie can call on, the most reliable (or perhaps questionable) one happens to be her somewhat-lover and ISI agent, Agent Michael Demalion.  Along Sylvie’s journey comes her teenage sister, and former troublemaker, Zoe.  Sylvie’s assistant, Alex, is loyal to Sylvie at her best.  Then there are supernatural creatures, such as a Fury demon named Erinya, who kind-of-sort-of joins Sylvie in her own form of destructive loyalty.

I really want to re-read this series and do a review on each book after writing all this.  Also as I write this, I'm still convinced this short-lived series is better than even Kim Harrison’s Hollows series as of late.  A very unpopular opinion, I'm certain.  But hey... it is what it is.  Also, Sylvie can beat the hell out of Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake and her harem of emasculated beasties.  That's something I would pay good money to see.  

In any regard, maybe it’s for personal reasons, but I really believe Lyn Benedict’s Shadow Inquires series is superior to both urban fantasy veterans [Harrison and Hamilton] for a variety of reasons.  Even within its life span of four books, I should add.  Benedict gave Sylvie a diverse set of case-related troubles, and less soap opera and relationship melodrama.  In the first book she was retained to help a gay god retrieve his missing boyfriend–who by the way was in a really, really cool magical oubliette.  In the second book Sylvie took on a case of magic-induced burglaries sweeping Miami, which led her into crazed necromancers and ghosts.  Book three Sylvie runs into old sorcerers and Aztec gods gone mad.  And the fourth and final book dealt with government cover-ups and the supernatural world gone ballistic on humans.  There was always, always something new and fresh to explore.  Not just the repeated drudgery of vampire politics and weaning over the washboard abs of villains.  And if all else fails, Benedict did a damn good job of fleshing out her stories from start to finish.

BOOM!  I said it!  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Go Be Great Without Apologizing

Worth repeating, right!  It's all misconception in the end.  So why not continue to just be yourself and let people think what they want. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

3 Ways of Making Character

Buffy, the Character Bible
What makes a compelling character?  And how can an author write one?  These questions are on my mind recently, as I find myself slipping in and out of a summer reading slump.  Seriously, I'm finding it hard to connect with books/characters as of late.  Especially after having this whole Martha Grimes hangover from reading the incredibly character purposed Hotel Paradise.  Then again, part of my reading slump comes from marathoning shows (including America’s Next Top Model) on Hulu, and replaying a few video games.  That’s neither here nor there, though.  So nonetheless, why is it that you can read about ten pages before you put a book aside for something else?  And what is it about characters that hook you to a book so that you don’t turn away?  Questions and more questions.   I want to share a few of the things I believe make a character worth diving into without the obstruction of time and outside distractions.

1. Battling Interests

I believe the first element that makes a great and compelling character comes by providing the character battling interests–or values. I love stories where the protagonist steps on stage filled with his or her own values and assurances, only to have those things about him or herself tested by some sort of moral choice. I saw that recently in Ha Jin’s The Crazed where a young Chinese graduate (during the late 1980s) battled with his dreams of becoming a Chinese scholar, but questioned his choice in accordance with the way his country needed activist to bring about democratic change. The tensions in the book lie mainly in his theorizing the consequences of either path.  And his theorizing is further complicated by the pressuring influences outside of himself (such as family and friends).

So, he could easily keep a low profile with a guaranteed (or even passive) existence as a scholar underneath China’s communist control.  Especially considering it has been a governing force all his life. Nevertheless, China’s government snuffs and even imprison those expressionists who push the use of foreign influences.  So what good would it do for him to be a scholar limited to the conceptions of his own country? This is a battle of interests, and in turn, drives the character. A character faced with plenty of opposition, but knows that eventually he or she has to make a choice.

2. Testing Principles

I don't like when authors make a character’s decision come easily to them, and when there is no clear and direct result to their choice. Sort of like that instant-love connection you sometimes get in romance novels, which is probably why I don’t read many of them.  I get annoyed when there is little to know stress or testing used to move a character to his or her choice. Even worse is when there are no real stakes to be had. The thrill is when an author provides a character with high stakes, then doubles the consequence.

If I’m reading a mystery novel, I want to know how far the detective would go to bring about justice. Would ruining his or her reputation be the risk? Or can a case only be concluded with the vengeful murder of its culprit? As for a romance, I would like to know how far the couple would go to stay together. Would they be ostracized from their families? Would they lose the respect of their friends? Or would society have an influence in their resolve to be a couple? Things such as that bring about testing the principles of characters.

3. No Pain, No Gain

The reason I gave up the series :(
Deus ex machina is Latin for “god from the machine." It’s used in the literary sense to describe an author who uses a quick, abrupt means of interference to solve a problem within a novel. Needless to say, it’s frustrating when an author does this. You usually see it when an author builds up some solid tension, then completely loses its release for whatever lazy or uncunning reason. See, it just doesn't pay when something swoops in out of God knows where and saves the day. The result is a cheapened and transparent experience for the reader. And I’m one to distrust the author's direction the minute I spot this kind of authorial ploy.  I’ve even stopped reading some series where books upon books of conflicting back-story is resolved with a single button and a puff of smoke (here‘s looking at you J. D. Robb).  The fact is that a character isn’t convincing without pain. Life isn’t convincing without pain (much to my chagrin).  Nevertheless, like life, character is about how the human spirit is capable of pulling itself off the floor in its final hour. No pain, no gain. So the best characters are always backed far into corners with no foreseeable way out but through their own resourcefulness.

Something that immediately comes to mind in reflection of this topic is actually from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Season two, episode 34. Buffy is battling her former lover, Angel (technically Angelus), for the season finale. They clash swords for a minute or two, taunting just a little along the way. He’s evil again, and she’s already made the decision that if she can’t save him, she must kill him. They're close to the wire, and Buffy begins to lose the battle when Angel disarms her.  She appears defenseless. 

When he raises his sword for one finishing sweep, he taunts: “That’s everything. No weapons. No friends. No hope. Take all that away, and what’s left?”

Angel jabs, and Buffy pulls a bare-handed blade block.  Her response to his question: “Me.”

Suddenly, she’s out of her corner and kicking Angel’s ass back before eventually sending him to hell, which subsequently saves the world. A high stake for her indeed, because no one will ever know that she scarified her lover to save the world. Nevertheless, my point is that nothing came to save Buffy in that final moment but herself, her spirit, and her palms.

Needless to say those are only a few things that I believe creates a compelling character–gray areas and such aside. So answer me this: what makes a compelling character to you? Who is a character you can admit that causes you to keep reading a book even if the book isn’t all that great? What do you prefer in a character–or what should come first in a character to you? Should a character be someone you can relate and identify with? Or is it better to have character fresh and new, yet someone you can learn something from in relation to his or her story and the proceeding choices that makes it (sort of like asking are there any villains whom you like)?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Recent Acquisitions

Two recent acquisitions.  Nothing totally new, just furthering a few of my newly favorite series.

Bitter Medicine by Sara Paretsky is book four in her V. I. Warshawski series.  In this book Warshawski's sixteen-year-old friend, Consuelo, is pregnant and diabetic.  Consuelo's baby is birth prematurely.  Unfortunately, both her baby and Consuelo ends up dead.  Warshawski suspects malpractice and sets about a dangerous investigation of unveiling a nasty cover-up.  After the third book, Killing Orders, I have to say that I'm superrrrrrr ready to move back in Warshawski's world.    

Murder at Monticello by Rita Mae Brown is book three in her Mrs. Murphy Mystery series.  After book two, Rest in Pieces, I have to repeat how thrilled I am to keep moving forward with this series.  It's like a cold–but no cold–comfort.  So what is Murder at Monticello about?  Basically, an archaeological dig on a few slave quarters in the town of Crozet, Virginia uncovers the skeletal remains of a centuries-old man.  Or is it really centuries old?  Rita Mae Brown is always good with surprises, so I really can't wait to move back into murders underneath the eyes of a cat and dog sleuth.

Another book I wanted to mentioned, but suddenly forget to add to the image, was a copy of Terry McMillian's A Day Late and a Dollar Short.  My best friend let me borrow it.  It'll be my first McMillian book, and I'm thinking about picking that up next.  Just wish I could get out of this reading slump.

Anyway, what are you reading?  Obsessed with any series?

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