Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Congratulations, Vicki!

It's your day, so make sure you celebrate!

As for the rest of you, get to the bookstores and grab yourself a copy of THE SCENT OF SHADOWS. Then after you finish reading it, post your review to enter Sara Howe's contest.

Nine Questions with Vicki Pettersson has been posted on Good Karma Reviews. (Tell your friends. ^_~ )

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Pizza Sneezed

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

The pizza sneezed. Cheese flew across the table. Peppers bounced of the plate. Greasy pepperoni plastered to my wine glass.

All movement ceased. No more the din of knives and forks on plates. The murmur of multiple over-lapping conversations silenced, like someone had flash-frozen the ocean. Even the violinist stopped. The renditions of much-loved Italian songs by strangled cats stopped clawing for attention among first dates, beer drinking contests, and family dinners.

For a moment, our eyes met across the topping-strewn table. He looked at me and I at him. In the silence we connected, we felt the complete understanding and inescapable bonding that can only happen when two people have witnessed the same impossible thing.

“Bless you,” he said.

There was a mumble of thanks.

Life resumed. Conversations restarted. Metal returned to ceramic. Children howled for ice cream.

It was when the violinist readied his bow that my partner met my eyes again.

“How does Chinese sound?” he asked.

“Chinese,” I said, “sounds great.”

Chicken balls had only ever clucked at us.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Good Karma Reviews

I've noticed that from time to time, the comments and feedback I offer to my CPs seems to be helpful, and that many of you have reported enjoying reading my book reviews.

So...because I needed to get a LJ account anyway, so I could track the folks there... I created a review journal. It will not be a personal blog, but one focused on reviewing and promoting books and authors that I love. :)

Which means that this will still be my primary blog, but I will be posting reviews and information about authors on the livejournal. (You can pop buy to read the welcome to see what I mean.)

I would be honored if you would visit and participate in the humble efforts to say good things about great books: Good Karma Reviews.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Shadows Agent

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

Awake among sleepers.
They tell me he used to say that, again and again, like a mantra. A phrase to ward off the ever watchful, all-seeing eye.

So they sent me to find out what he knew.

The first thing I noticed was his clean-shaven face and his clothes that had recently seen the inside of a washer. He wasn’t like the others asking for spare change. He wanted to make change—quarters for the washing machine, and minutes for his cosmic truths.

Awake among sleepers. He never explained why him, or how he came to be awake. One day he was. Awake, seeing shadows on the cave wall where others saw the two lane main drag or the churning dryers.

He said the dryer’s hum made it heard for them to hear. It was safe to talk, if you kept your voice low, buzzing beneath the rotation of socks and jeans.

I never had trouble hearing him.

Awake among sleepers. Who were the sleepers, I asked. Were they like him? Would they one day open their eyes and see beneath the consensual dream?

The ones who listened, he told me, looked like everyone else—until he saw their eyes. Empty husks regarded him where living souls should have been.

He never flinched at my gaze as I asked to hear more.

They’d never been sleepers, he said. Things like them had never known the pretty dreams in the cave. But neither were they the ones stoking the fire and weaving the shadow play.

Awake among sleepers, and venturing out beyond the safety of the cave. Out into the realm of the dead-eyed things. Because once awake, wasn’t it human nature to want to explore the solitude? To slink through the privacy that being awake while others sleep brought?

No, I told him, I wouldn’t want to.

He asked why.

If you’re the only one awake, I gave him a smile, then who are you going to call for help?

He found another Laundromat after that conversation. Mission accomplished.

The Oracle

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

Sixteen in the last three hours alone, with each pilgrim more desperate than the last. Lust in most requests, while others begged for sympathy.

All morning long, she’d played marionette to the gods. Her lips and tongue moving in unison with theirs. Frightening, hearing the glacial tones come from her. She hadn’t known she could cut off all the variance that made her human. But someone had.

Her eyes on the cards; her lips foretelling the gods’ plans. All day. Every day. As if her body was meant only to be their transistor. Her words remained forever entombed within her mind, and her voice was never her own.

They said it was to prevent charlatans—pranksters who would subvert the sacred tools. Twist the images and archetypes into a false story, while demanding payment for each additional chapter.

But as she watched her fingers turn over the Death card, she longed for the comfort of fiction.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Red, for Hel

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

It’s not red. Not really. Red hair—naturally red hair—is copper, strawberry blond or auburn. Not red. Not like the colors I used for him: scarlet, crimson, Tuscan, poppy, cherry, and vermillion. Add in a touch—just a bit—of copper to build the highlights. Purple, black, navy, and a hint of the grey in his sweater for deep, living shadows.

Don’t forget the eyes—used gold and amber there, so a quick, vivacious brushstroke of each in the highlights.

Build and layer the colors. Make two-dimensions seem like three. Make flat, digital color mimic thick, glorious oils. Make his hair strands, not just a cel-shaded helmet.

But I never got to the oil painting section. I only did acrylics. Still, one can love impressionists through acrylics. Through pencils. Through photoshop’s default brush. It’s the movement, the life and energy in the brushstrokes.

Van Gogh wanted to capture a moment—to make time tangible in sunburst orange. Now, I make imagination hyper-real in swatches numbered because I didn’t take the time to name them.

A digital painting for my online friend’s birthday. I called it “Red,” but really, it wasn’t.

The Beast in the Wall

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

The grate is a foot by half-a-foot—metal painted white. The thick wire mesh cuts its maw into bite-sized squares. On my hands, and with my cheek pressed against the honey-wood floor, I can see the hallway through it, and watch the dogs ticky-tac by.

When winter came, or what passes for winter in such a temperate climate, the open maw belched dust and old, stale air that it had been digesting since the last winter.

At night, its inky blackness blends into the shadows created by my bookshelf. But sometimes, the grate groans—a heart-wrenching cry like Prometheus trying to shake his chains before the eagle returns in the morning. For nearly a month, we’d hear the groan, like some beast was being kept in the basement, which was really just a fruit cellar prison for the tormented heater.

The beast has been silent since November, no longer complaining. Perhaps, it realized it couldn’t chase us out so easily.

For a few months, it tried to freeze me out. Its always open double-mouth exhaled warmth only into the hallway. So we covered it with a board, forcing the heat to push itself into my bedroom. Still, it seemed that every room but mine was warm, hospitable.

Only in January, month of gloom and bringer of news of cancer and how it was eating Uncle Joe’s insides again—only after that did the beast take pity. Now, it’s nocturnal embrace is comforting, as if it realized there is enough coldness in the world without a faulty heating vent.

Long Live the Eyedolls

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

The power of the gods had weaned over the centuries, becoming a fragile hammer that shattered when struck too swiftly.

With vid-features and promo feeds, idols and starlets, the gods had competition for attention. No one had ever seen Mother Wisdom, after all, only the stone face and empty eyes of her temple statue. But Lexi Blue was on every promo feature. A digital goddess who laughed and smiled, danced and sang.

Stone was not life. Life was crystal-clear concert feeds broadcast with stereo sound right into your home. Life was full-immersion technology allowing you to manipulate camera angles and alter the playlist order. Didn’t care for Strong Feather? Skip it to personalize your worship ceremony.

Did Fortune fill your mind with guitars, drums, and a celestial voice? Could the Goddess of Love answer your messages in a real time live interview? When did you feel most alive: inside the claustrophobic temples on the God’s Days, or stamping and singing with forty thousand other devotees at a benefit show?

No, the gods had been locked in the cage of time; unable to be new and fresh, because they’d always been old as the stars—the ones in the sky, not the ones on the screen.

The gods were dead. Long live the idols.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Review: The Scent of Shadows

The Scent of Shadows by Vicki Petterrson

Had Vicki Petterrson called me up and asked how she could write the perfect urban fantasy novel, I’d be hard pressed to find an answer better than the one she provides with her debut novel, The Scent of Shadows: The First Sign of the Zodiac.

Imagine that in each city, a troupe of six men and six women exist—the Zodiac, warriors of the Light. In back alleys and government buildings, they do battle with their opposites, the Shadows—twelve warriors trying to send humanity into debauchery and chaos. Twelve balance twelve, creating harmony. But the Lights of Las Vegas are being put out, and only the Kairos—warrior who is both Light and Shadow—can return the balance.

Many of the preliminary reviews for The Scent of Shadows liken it to a comic book. While they are entirely correct, none of those reviews have fully explained the relationship. This is, after all, more than a debut novel or an introduction to one of my new favorite authors—it’s an origin story. Were it an actual comic book, it could have been titled The Archer: Year One.

After all, it accomplishes what all good origin stories must: an introduction to the main character, her world, the rules of that world, her powers, her enemies and allies, and that first stumble that will help to define where she’ll fall on the range between Light and Shadow.

While comic books have vivid, brightly colored panels to accomplish this, The Scent of Shadows has everything penciled in by an admirable, believable narrator: Joanna Archer. Through Joanna’s senses, the panels of her story are expertly drawn in our minds. But it is the actions and dialogue of each character that provides the final ink and colors. This is not a book that tells you who someone is or what Vegas is like—it shows you.

Given the success of NBC’s runaway hit Heroes, I’d say we’re ready for the revamped, modern take that Petterrson has on superheroes. This is an original, vivacious and much needed addition to a genre over-saturated with werewolves, vampires, and blood-soaked battles that hang off their generic Tough Chick narrator like her multiple weapons.

Joanna Archer lives and breathes as a real, honest individual. Someone you might know, or at least wish you did. When she overcomes and succeeds, you cheer. When she falters, you want to call her up on her crystal-studded cellphone and tell her that it’ll be all right.

The balance of Light and Shadow within Joanna is reflected in the balance of light and dark moments in the book. A touching scene can easily become a battleground, and a battle can easily become a moment of humor. Never does this seem forced. Each sentence of Joanna’s story slips into the next—not like magic, but like life.

The dialogue is tight; even conversations that would seem frivolous are used to develop characters and paint the scene. In fact, some of them shine brightest in the book, like the “spa date” Joanna has with Cher. If I have one minor quibble, it's that in one multiple character scene it was difficult to tell who was speaking, but that seems a fault of my inexperience with Petterrson's clever absence of tags and not the dialogue itself.

Of course, no epic battle of good and evil can take place without its villians. And what villains they are! Ajax Sand will make your skin crawl. You’ll shudder each time Joanna has to inhale his putrid stench. Joaquin will make you think twice about ever walking the desert alone. And the Tulpa, well, let’s just say it’s been a while since such a fantastic concept has been utilized to create a “supervillian.”

The Scent of Shadows will satisfy you, while leaving you hungry for all things that we’ve been promised will come. I look forward to seeing Joanna’s relationship with her teammates evolve, especially the handsome Hunter. Watching her balance her alter ego of socialite and her crime-fighting duties promise a continuation of the book’s internal and external conflicts. Hurry, April, and bring The Taste of Night with you!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Young Writers

You know, I should just learn to take compliments however I can get them.

But I have this issue with the label "young writer." I understand, it's said as a reflection of my age, but it always sounds to me as a presumption of experience.

This "young writer" has been writing for 15 years. The first thing she ever completed was a short story when she was in 10, and a grade 5 teacher asked the class to write a story during their computer time. Green courier words on a black screen, Apple IIEs humming away, then the whirl of the dot matrix printer. En volia, the start of a long and (thus far unpublished) career. In a shoebox somewhere, that first story still rests.

She has three completed "novels" from her early and mid-teens in another "shoebox" somewhere. She has countless other short stories, poems, and unfinished pieces in yet one more. She's got three "novels" from another unfinished series from her late teens and early twenties on her harddrive. None of it is publishable, but it's got the spark. It's got the passion. At each relative point in her career, all of those pieces were deemed good.

Good changes. Good evolves as a writer evolves, as they experience other writers by which to compare and measure their own skills and talents. And good becomes not good enough. We don't want to be good. We want to be great, fantastic, brilliant. That's what we strive for—what we fight and push and work to hear.

Everyone comes into this game at a different stage. Some of us are just now trying their hand at a "novel." Others have been at it for five, ten, maybe even 15–20 years. Some of us knew from the moment we could read anything more complex than "Dick and Jane" this was what we wanted. Some of us realized it much later in life.

So, tell me, writers "young" and "old," what've you got hidden in your shoebox?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Can I submit this as my review?

Right between Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman. Where it belongs!

But as I look at THE SCENT OF SHADOWS so snugly nestled between my two favorite authors on my favorites shelf and think of how April can't come soon enough, I conclude:

I'm going to need a bigger bookshelf to accommodate this series.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I watched them closely pt 3

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

Shiro, 1999

I watch them closely. His hand on the curve of her back, the sweat wafting in the air. Hers: vanilla and baby powder. His: musky, feral—inhuman. Her eyes glassy. His hungry and reflecting back the dim glow from over the stage.

Oh, Kim, you idiot. You sweet, trusting idiot. Why, of all the oversexed and cologned males here, did you choose him? This predator in varsity skin; a wolf in human's clothing.

Can't you see the edge of his teeth as they flash? Can't you feel his hand too tightly against your wrist for such a slight grip?

And I can hear him over this cacophony—I hate this song. Over the thunder of voices and rumble of movement. He's asking you to go outside. To leave the warmth of familiar shadows and the sanctity of the lemon-scented linoleum and metal-tang lockers.

But you say yes. Because you know no better. Because you should never have to know better. And I'll have to stop you—save you. You'll hate me for it now. Hell, probably for a long time. And I'll hate that I can never explain. Never give the honest answer when your eyes tear and your voice cracks, as you demand to know why. Why I did it. Why I always get in the way. Why I ruin everything.

I wish I could tell you the reason. I wish I could lie and give any reason but the truth.

It's because he's a monster, Kim. A monster just like me.

I watched them closely pt 2

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

Kim Bennett, (14) 1999

They danced in the dark that was never really dark—the safe kind of dark allowed in the school gym.

Laughter. The five girls hand in hand. Shaking. Swaying. Singing.

Amanda was leaving in three weeks, but as the song blared and their bodies echoed its rhythm, it didn't matter.

Together in song. Inseparable in melody. Five sister of harmony.

But the blonde one, her eyes closed in joy, she caught his attention—her neck white and slender.

He approached, his presence alien, and her sisters enclosed her. Protective. Supportive. Both jealous and envious.

"Wanna dance?" he asked, shouting over the music.

She blushed, color flooding her cheeks like spring thaw. Her sisters pressed at her back and whispered words of encouragement, despite their hungry eyes.

His hand reached out, and her fingers slipped within his, the key unlocking the door to let in the wind that would scatter them like five rose petals. Spinning, until they resettled on earth.

And then there'd only be four.

I watched them closely pt 1

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

Character name: Kim Bennett (14)
Year: 1999

I remember Jason Thompson, when boys had just begun to be cool. But never boys our age. Older boys. A year, maybe two. Older boys who noticed girls—noticed us dancing in a group to Three Doors Down sing about Superman's weakness. The world around us worried about Y2K, but all we knew was that someone said the microwave might not work come next January. Which would suck, because how would we make pizza pops? They didn't fit in the toaster, and the oven took too long.

But who could worry about bugs eating the telephone wires when there was Jason to think about.

I remember when he first noticed me—eyes like fudgesicles—at the dance, with Karen and Lizzie and Mel and me staying close to Amanda, because she was supposed to move. And then there'd only be four.

Jason did his hair like Brad Pitt. But better, because none of us would ever meet Brad Pitt.

But when I first noticed Jason was when he came up to me, and stole me away from my friends with the two words that changed my life: wanna dance?