Tuesday, December 28, 2010

DWS's Races

This one doesn't really count for Dean Wesley Smith's Submission Race but check out SCR(Shit Creek Review).

I sent in four poems for their "Random Issue". We shall see how it works out. Would be an appropriate place for my first publication credit. In terms of DWS's challenge, I'll call each set of poems submitted to a paying market as the same amount of points a short story sub gets, which is 1 point.

I have a pretty laughable score at the moment. Looking at Duotrope's submission tracker, my total comes to 6 points. As to the new eRace he describes, I can't count the novel I wrote for National Novel Writing Month this year on Smashwords, but that will be up for purchase by the end of winter. I will be putting up a series of fantasy stories as ebooks as well. More will come as I get off my bum and produce more content in the coming year. At least that's the goal.

What are your submission goals for the new year?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holding Light: A Holiday Tale

Since I didn't write a seasonal story till super late, enjoy it for free. I like this one, but worry it's a bit too twisted.

Holding Light

Tara sat in the midst of a tangled pit of Christmas lights, face lit up with every color of the rainbow.

"Well, at least they still work," Roger said, stepping over the left side of the mess with care and unplugging it from the wall.

"No thanks to you Roger." Tara began to pick apart two strings of lights, weaving the unplugged end over, under, and through.

"Don't start Tara." Roger sat down on the couch and turned on the game.

"Why shouldn't I? All of my decorations are up." Cheers erupted from the TV as the announcer called first down.

"I work all week Tara. I don't need this shit."

"Work. You mean the 'work' that is barely paying our bills. I make almost as much as you doing transcriptions." Tara yanked the free end of the lights through a nodule of tangled ones, popping off a light with a small 'snap'.

"The game is on. Stop being so loud."

"Are you at least going to put them up?"

Roger shifted on the couch and opened the tab on his Colt 45. The hiss of carbonation filled a break in the announcers' commentary. "I thought you could do that. There's a college game on after this."

"Oh really? And what if I have something else to do?" Tara spread the nodule apart and then began to maneuver the free end of the lights in and out, destroying the weave.

"You don't have anything to do. I can't go out there anyway, it'll give me a cold."

"Are you that big of a pussy now Roger?" Tara felt the points of tiny lights dig into her palm. Relax girl, she thought, don't let his five year old bullshit get to you.

"What did you call me?" Roger sat forward, beer in one hand, other in a fist on his thigh.

"I called you a pussy. It's an appropriate term for a man who won't go outside in the cold."

"You need to get off your high horse Tara. You're a secretary, for Christ's sake."

"I'm a Transcriptionist, dumb ass."

"What did you call me?" Roger got up from the couch and leaned over the coffee table, his face spitting distance from Tara's.

"You heard me. Watch your stupid game and leave me alone." Tara took up the strings of lights again and began unweaving the strands, head down and focused on her work.

Roger snarled at the back of her head. "What did you call me, bitch?"

"You heard me. Now sit down."

Roger growled, then spit the mucus at Tara's head, covering her hair in viscous gel.

Tara spun and used her hands to push herself up to a standing position. She leaned down and grabbed the closest strings of lights, whipping them around to slap Roger in the face. Then she grabbed an end in each hand, jumped onto his back, and threw her improvised garrote over his head. It fell on his chest.

Roger was too concerned with trying to pull Tara off of him to even feel the lights hit him. He dumped beer all over them both trying to throw his can of Colt 45 at her head, then grabbed at Tara's upper arms. Tara didn't stop, barely felt his hands on her or the beer running down her back. Adrenaline sustained her, giving her hands the strength to keep pulling the ends of the strings, planting her feet on Roger and throwing all her weight back to put pressure against his neck.

It was too much. The tree went down under their combined weight, pine branches snapping and filling the room with the smell of Christmas cheer and new-to-you used cars. Tara felt the needles dig into her back, fill up her hair. She wrapped her legs around Roger's midsection and squeezed, making it almost impossible for him to fling her off. He was always a skinny little drunk, Tara thought, as she felt the last tremors of Roger's life vibrate her thighs. He might have screamed, but she couldn't hear. She didn't care.

The lights reclaimed from around Roger's neck, Tara pushed him off of her and stood.

"Should've given me a golden ring," she breathed, as she stared down at his body, the neck covered in bright red dots from the points of the lights.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Christmas Time


"Flakes"

Carry me away on white flakes
the dandruff lazy Santa makes
too busy eating cookies and
ornament hanging, present wrapping
stuffing his bags while the elves sing
the reindeer assist as a band
clanging their jingle bells, stomping
their hooves, transport me to winter
town, where commercialism is banned.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mr. Sanderson's Dialogue Challenge

In case I lose my nerve before Sunday, here are my three pages of dialogue. I may extend it, but right now, it feels right the way it is. The challenge was to write 5-10 pages of dialogue, two characters, no blocking, no tagging, no exposition beyond what their words imply. Instructions for sharing, if you dare to accept the challenge, are on Brandon Sanderson's Facebook page. Deadline is Sunday.


"The world is full of decay."

"We shouldn't add to it then."

"It's not our decision."

"Then who's is it?"

"You know."

"I don't know."

"No, you know. Don't make me say it."

"But I don't know!"

"It doesn't matter Charlie, we need to do our job."

"For a boss I don't even know?"

"Yes. Do as I say son."

"But not as you do, right? You do it. I'll walk home."

"You cannot do that."

"Why not?"

"You are not old enough to be on your own."

"Oh really? Then why did you lie to Mom?"

"I needed you on this mission."

"Don't you have a partner or something? I thought you were a cop."

"Not exactly."

"What are you than?"

"More like what are we, my son."

"I don't work with you. I'm thirteen. How could I sign up for this?"

"You did not. It is who we are."

"Couldn't Mom help you instead? She's great at killing things. You've seen the garden."

"Your mother will have no part of this."

"Than I won't either."

"You have no choice."

"Why? Because you say so?"

"No."

"Then why?"

"I cannot tell you. You must figure it out on your own."

"Is this some sort of test? I don't do well on those, you know."

"It is not a test. But everyone in our condition has to find their own reasons, their own why."

"It's so beautiful Father."

"I know."

"Can't I keep it?"

"No. Think of how much I am gone. Could we keep all of those? It would not be fair."

"Well, you always say the world's not fair."

"Take it son, your mother is expecting us for dinner."

"I don't know how."

"Touch it. You will see how."

"It's smiling at me."

"It does not belong here, son, do the job."

"I don't want a job!"

"You have as much choice in this as you did in your sex, boy, now do it. I cannot stand to hear it much longer."

"She's laying down, Dad, she knows what's coming."

"Always remember what it is son. Always."

"I don't know what she is! I just know she's beautiful!"

"You have to do it now son."

"Don't touch me! Murder her yourself!"

"Shake it off son. It will all be clear. Let her go."

"No!"

"You have to do this. You chose to care for it. I told you to close off your mind."

"I won't! You'll have to kill us both!"

"Please don't make me end it, my son. Find your power, end it yourself, please."

"You're choking me!"

"You must see reason. Take its life. They cannot be allowed to stay."

"But-she's-so-beautiful-her-mind-the answers-"

"Do what you have to do or I will have to."

"All-right-father-I-see."

"What do you see?"

"The poisoned-heart-it's-black-I'll-"

"And what do you see now son?

"The world is full of decay."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I don't need permission to be wrong or right.

More PAD Chapbook Challenge this fine Sunday morning.

"Distance"

Is it wrong to crave the distance
shutterby and feel resistance
to the quote unquote
normal reality
that binds us all
in corporate misery.

I can't be shamed into submission
never bought, always listening
the shutter snaps closed
image captured
separation, soul renewed
to what is right and new.

"Can I Go"

The leaves are blowing
a deep knowing
winter's on the mend.
Kicking daisies
defining maybes
helping me around the bend.
Natural permission
to hide away
I am not scared of the cold
seeping, embracing
covering, lacing over
all we claim to know.
In the early dark
I see the spark of stars
and wonder-
can I go?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tell Me Why I'm Stacking the Lost and Found

Inspired by the pad Chapbook Challenge. Robert Lee Brewer is a great poet, and the comments are fun to procrastinate with. I'm playing catchup again. My second rejection has made me feel better about continuing to write. At least I am trying now.

"Tell Me Why Everything's Broken”

Is it the cigarettes
or the lack of exercise
or the color tv?
Tell me why everything's broken.

Is it the unwanted children
or incompetent fathers
or unfit mothers?
Tell me why everything's broken.

Is it consumer culture
or trickle down government
or a war over oil?
Tell me why everything's broken.

Is it the rising poverty level
or the crisis of education
or the indulgence of the rich?
Tell me why everything's broken.

And the little boy says-
It's all of that and more.”


"Cake"

one circle, slapped
down, filled, covered
with sugary staying
power, to rise high-
with proper support.
dowels shoved in
the next tier placed
with care; for these
are the days of our lives.

My lost and found poem for today found in the comments of today's post for PAD.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

PAD Challenge Catch Up

I think I am killing my brain a bit trying to do this challenge and NaNo in the same month, but I will survive. Took a few days away from poems, either forgetting because I finished NaNo too late or in desperately needed rest.

I realize now that I need to listen to Hulk Hogan and take my damn vitamins. One can not live on coffee and cigarettes alone.

Here are the last four days of prompts, including today:

10th-A love poem.

"Orion"

I looked up and I saw
Orion, a dear warrior
in the sky.

All I could think of
was finding your face
to watch his belt.

You are my sunshine
I no longer need
a reason why.


11th-No One Wants (blank)

"No One Wants Sally"

hiding behind the bleachers
a bandanna over her hair
Sally probes her bomber jacket
for cigarettes-and stares
out to a painted field, colored
by white and blond and red
every color of the rainbow
it's all paranoia, in her head.
They'd let her join them if she wanted
but she chooses to be apart
Sally hits her smoke and falters
in second grade they broke her heart.


12th-Forget about it.

"Say"

"I forgot to say I love you."
"I know."
"There is no one else above you."
"I care."
"Is there anything to do?"
"The snow."
"It's more beautiful than you."
"I know."


13th-Open ended question.

"Where to Go"

Are you hungry
I think so, where
would you like to go?
I don't know, pass it
on, where would you
like to go? Well I
don't know, it's time
to chow, can you make
a decision tonight?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Manic Monday

I always loved this bit on the morning news here when I worked day shift at a gas station. Something needed to wake me up.

Only 3,000 more words, I can so do it. I'll be over the halfway point to "winning" NaNoWriMo, and a quarter of the way towards my goal. The Milk Wood place I'm always talking about on Twitter has been a help, if you can run http://www.secondlife.com come and write sometime.

I'm also doing the PAD challenge because I need to get in the habit of writing both every day, they seem to feed each other. I get all the annoyances of the day out through the poem, and then I feel clear in my head to write about the fictional people with all their problems. I wrote two on yesterday's prompt, so here is the second.

Pro-Sunset

I believe in sunsets
deep purple clouds
with magenta highlights
presiding over rush hour
tempering roadrage
the horizon brings
warm orange and
blood tinged trees
a strata of the day's events
for a limited time only.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Grinding the Grid: Saturday Night's Alright for Inspiration

Saturday evening is a great night for live music in Second Life®. Music is the purest form of escapism and inspiration for me, so much energy comes across from the performers. A great live show will always invigorate and enhance my writing.

To start my Saturday of musical inspiration, I took a trip over to Cisum (now unfortunately mid-move) to check out the sweet yet rocking Geos Copperfield at his 12PM SLT gig. This happens every week, with a set that varies between covers of all styles and originals that will get your head bobbing. I'm particularly fond of his song Words and his cover of Smashing Pumpkins saccharine lullaby, By Starlight. His performance at Cisum was also graced by a spectacular cover of Blue October's Hate Me. They're a good band for a writing playlist, epic without being in your face. Following him on the Cisum stage was Marsram Mougin with his intricate guitar work and slightly roughed voice that is perfect for the classic rock he plays. I stayed till the end of his set, relaxing and talking music with a friend while sipping the fruity pineapple drink Marsram's tip jar gives out.

Next on my list of musicians to catch up with was strum Diesel. I use his Google Calendar and my subscription to his updates to keep up with his performances on grid, trying to hit at least one show a week. This week, it was a new venue for him, A & A Games. I've kicked my Zyngo addiction, so left the gaming alone, but the 7 Seas Fishing pier was a nice diversion while I watched the sunset and listened to strum's amazing blend of originals and covers. His sets are different every time, including both guitar and piano accompaniment. The green haired showman can make you laugh and cry with his lyrics, filled with social commentary and pointed observations.


After relaxing with the sunset and strum's music for an hour, I moved on to my favorite club in Second Life®, the Virtual Hotel Chelsea. I stumbled upon it looking for a virtual New York City in the name of inspiration one morning and just keep coming back. Mykal Skall and enola Vaher are the avatars behind this nirvana of Bohemia, and it is their artistic spirit that makes the place feel so real. Walking into the Lyceum, I feel immersed in the 60s rock scene. Dark wood paneling, a fantastic bar, and pictures of the real Hotel Chelsea and its residents create this feeling for me. And the musicians enola books to perform there, of course.

First up was RoseDrop Rust. His performance was a blend of solid covers and amazing original poetry. Rusty is one of the best poets on the grid, and a live reading of his should not be missed. I hardly noticed the hour of his set going by, I was so wrapped up in his words. The blend of music and poetry was a perfect compliment to the club, and I felt like I was in the real Chelsea for most of his set.



Riding off the natural high of RoseDrop's performance, I slid right into Dale Aries's set without missing a beat. His gruff voice fit right into the mood RoseDrop had created, and I couldn't help but bop my head along with his blend of covers and originals. No dancing for me, though, I was so inspired by this point a poem just bled on out of me during the show.

There are many ways of finding inspiration on the grid, and the easy access to live music should be added to a list that already includes impressive builds and a great sense of community. Try out a show at the Hotel Chelsea on a Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday, or search any of these artists for their inworld groups and subscribos that will notify you when a great source of inspiration may be only a teleport away.

The Ways of the World: Under the Influence

There are many conflicting opinions on what one should read as a writer. Some authors-like David Eddings-claim to never read in their genre. Though he contradicted himself when he wrote of his love for the forms of medieval romance in the Introduction to The Rivan Codex. He was heavily influenced by this classic genre, and it shows in the similar plot structure of his books. It is better to admit to the influence your reading habits have on your writing, for then you can use it to your advantage.

The Writing Excuses podcast this week was on the proper way to steal. We have to be careful of plagiarism, and if you do not acknowledge and pay attention to how your influences texture your writing, you may be accused of being too derivative, as Eddings and Christopher Paolini often are.

The trick to harnessing your influences without getting caught is blending them in original ways. It's not the best of ideas to read in one genre to the exclusion of all others, it can lead to a sameness in style that will be noticed. My strategy to ensure I blend many different influences is to read multiple books at the same time.

Sure, I focus on one book occasionally, but for the last few years I've had a stack of about seven books that I'm reading. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I try to keep it on a set list of genres/styles, to ensure that I am not all over the place. The categories I settled on are: Religion, young adult, poetry, fantasy, reference, author criticism, and plays. These general headings cover the majority of my interests, and give enough leeway to plug in any book. My current reading list is the Bible, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, A collection of Shakespeare's poetry, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, A Field Guide to Narnia, and A Raisin in the Sun. There's also a collection of Faulkner's work and Spenser's poems on the stack, as well as my continuing quest to get through Tales Before Tolkien. Another trick for ensuring you get to at least three of your chosen books a day is to scatter them about the house, anywhere you sit down is my decorating plan.

This is a heavy list, but I'm playing catchup as well. It suits the procrastinator in me. The theory behind the list is what matters, and that can be tailored to suit your needs. For example, one of the best ways to steal without getting caught is to borrow from history. This would be a section of my reading list, but as I already have to read a lot of history in the course of homeschooling my son, I omit it from the stack. The important piece to remember is to have a set list of forms and styles you read in.

Get a list of forms, styles and genres together that you want to explore and have at it. It helps to set aside a set time for reading every day, and to decorate with books. This reading to expand your writing style can be considered separate from casual reading, and don't be afraid to take notes. Happy reading!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Extreme Rules! For Maryland, at least.



I didn't have high hopes for Extreme Rules, the April WWE PPV in Baltimore at the Arena, because the Maryland Athletic Commission is notorious for laying out hefty fines for hardcore wrestling.

Vince surely took a hit to the pocket book for some of the matches last night, though they were nothing compared to the vision most wrestling fans would have when looking forward to an extreme event. Not a drop of blood spilled, though Orton stomped a mudhole in Swagger's face against the steel stairs, and the Glamazon Beth Phoenix practiced a great deal of violence against Michelle McCool to regain her Women's Championship belt.


We walked in to a backstage setup of Triple Haitch getting piped by Shame-Us. Is this the extreme portion of our programming? I want tables and ladders and chairs, oh my.

Come to think of it, not a ladder appeared all evening. Guess my purple and green ensemble didn't have it's hoped for effect.

At the entrance of ShowMiz, hope for the entertainment value of Extreme Rules increased ten fold. Miz got on the mic and shot off at the mouth about Bret Hart naming ShowMiz the best tag team that was, is, or ever will be on RAW the following night - until Teddy Long made their title defense a three match gauntlet. Show didn't swallow Miz's face with his hands soon enough to avoid it, sigh.



Morrison and R Truth came out as the first team up. Did they explain how R Truth returned from the dead on Smackdown? I need to DVR that crap. I don't care how he returned, I had fun screaming "What's Up!" alongside the sheep. This first matchup was highlighted by some quick exchanges between the former tag team partners, and a tree of woe type thing placed on Show by Morrison as a counter to the choke slam. Wrestling's favorite gymnast wouldn't let go of Show, and the tag team champs held on to their titles...for the moment.

Henry and MVP ran in next, all in shiny new jumpsuits that were black with red accents for their acronyms. Mr. Porter slid in to attempt a quick pin on Show, but failed. Henry came in at Miz's arrival and broke him down, but WSM taggged MVP for Ballin' and a KO punch from Show on the outside allowed Teh Awesome to reverse MVP's pin attempt and get two down for the Tag Champs.



Pink filled the arena, and I squealed like the Bret Hart fangirl I've been for years. The Hart Dynasty stormed the ring with the Excellence of Execution by their side, hit a short yet beautiful Hart Attack, and got the pinfall. Look at how proud Uncle Bret is. Huggles all around.



Next up, a straight edge shearing. Although I couldn't cheer for Punk's demise all that hard, he gave a great story in this match along with his society, and what's a Christ-like figure without the hair? Good spots all around and Punk pulled it out with the help of a new SES member, who appeared out of nowhere after Festus and Scary Sherri got barred from ringside. 123wrestling made me aware of a rumor it's Matthews back from obscurity, and one can only hope our hometown boy is back in the big leagues.

Though I would have much rather seen him with Morrison and Melina in the first match. They worked that angle so damn well. The only hardcore aspects of this match were Festus's stink and the squirrel on Punk's chin. And the amount of near pinfalls. My god. Here's a favorite from close to the end.



Then we got into the strap. Keeping with the theme of former partner heat, JTG and Chad of CrymeTime attached themselves with leather and got down for some borderline BDSM fun. The most creative parts of the match were these dangling moves over the ropes.



JTG won by pulling off his finisher after following Chad's slaps of the first three corners. Little Naitch got in my way of seeing this. JTG ended the match collapsed in the fourth corner. Hopefully this is not an indicator of Marty Jannetty syndrome.

The match I was looking forward to the most was next. The All American American and the Viper had a classic match, rolling around on the mat to showcase Swagger's amateur skills as well as taking it outside for Orton to show us he's still vicious as hell. I'll give it to our still reigning champion, he will take a damn beating. Here's a money shot from this spectacular match.



Swagger was a suplex king, although Orton did pull of the DDT with Swagger's legs on the ropes that he seemed obsessed with making. The All American American countered the RKO with a suplex for the win. I didn't care he retained, I can only hope these two will run another match together soon.


I went for food after the green promos. Haitch was weak after getting mauled by the White Witch on the Concrete with the Lead Pipe. Came back with my hamburger and fries just in time to see them enter the ring...uh, actually, to see the Game getting neck braced. He did the whole real man thing and walked out with it on after refusing the stretcher. Typical. Let's just say the fake ambulance was still sitting outside with an empty stretcher beside it when we pulled away from the arena. This shot of the Titantron shows the scope of the PPV, however.



It says volumes about Bethie's wrestling ability and how much you have to pay in fines for violence against women in my state that the Women's Championship Makeover Match was after Haitch vs. Shame-Us. I mean, the blinding white face was on the chairs, for crying out loud. Anyway, McCool's henchmen, lead by my favorite heel Vicki Guerro, were confused as to the proper props for a makeover match. There was the shot with the ironing board that didn't fall apart as it should, and a lot to do with a broom. Ms. Phoenix Glam Slammed McCool to get back her gold.



Ah, the cage, and Baby Flair in it where he belongs. This would've been my favorite match, but I had to watch Edge painfully attempt not to injure himself the entire time, which is always a bummer. Too many good spots to count, Jericho the spider monkey tried to escape as soon as he entered the cage and five more times over the course of the match. Here's the best escape shot.


Unfortunately, Jericho the Lionhearted One couldn't forget what a douche the spearmaster is, and had to pull back from exiting the cage clean to chair shot that ugly face. Edge gets the pin on the man who is still Undisputed Champion of all wrestling in my heart after pulling him down from the cage for the sixth time or so.

Here's the Cena vs. Batista Last Man Standing Match from my point of view:



That's right, we decided it would be more interesting to go smoke in the parking lot. Best not to ruin our memories of a solid, well paced pay per view from WWE. It's been awhile, with the exception of Wrestlemania.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Ways of the World: Addled by Adverbs

Editing is hell on the self esteem.

I took a poem that was quite nice to a workshop last week, and one of the comments was a request for a few less adverbs, if possible. For a long time, I wondered why so many have a prejudice over these little words that end in -ly.

I now see why it is so prevalent. These buggers are everywhere in my writing, lengthening sentences, helping me cop out of any meaningful description.

It's a travesty.

Adverbs are useful sometimes, but their overuse is a bad habit any writer can succumb to. You become so used to them in daily speech that they pop up in all your descriptions and nonfiction work as well. I cut at least fifty words from the prologue of my novel in adverbs alone. The word count benefited from this purge. It reads a lot clearer now, and the descriptions have more depth. I'll have a longer novel by forcing myself to give full descriptions, rather than using the adverb of the day.

How can you tell if you use too many adverbs in your work? My advice is to read it aloud, or have someone read it to you. Hearing it from an outside source and reading it on your own would be the best plan, for there are things you will notice stumbling over your words that will not pop up in your brain if you are listening to a piece, and vice-versa. Reading my prologue aloud at the Hotel Chelsea Literary Night on Thursdays @ 6 SLT did it for me. Every time I stumbled over my words an adverb was involved. Every. darn. time.

Why is this? Well, it comes from all the -ly's. You use too many adverbs, the -ly's breed like rabbits, and all of a sudden you feel like you are repeating yourself all the time. Even the most convoluted and original adverbs will become just another word for a reader to skip over.

And if you cause your readers to skip over too many words, well, the best idea for a story could be lost to glazed over eyes, and your book going back on the bookstore shelf, or never leaving the slush pile.

The real problem with adverbs is that they are weak words. There's always a phrase that can do it better, always a more constructive way to get that description across. They are great for dialogue. They are verbal shorthand that most of us use in our everyday lives. A well crafted conversation will use adverbs sparingly to give that feel of "real" speech, as will a good conversational piece of writing.

Adverbs have no place in description of setting or story, however. Cut them out. I have come to the painful conclusion that they dilute my writing. They do have their place, like any other part of speech. The job of a world building wordsmith is know where that place is, and put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Ways of the World: Prolonging the Prologue

"Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, wore white on the day he was to kill a king."

So begins the prologue to Brandon Sanderson's yet to be released book, The Way of Kings. As soon as I read it, I knew I had no reason to be worried about what is coming in August. The Stormlight Archive will be as awesome as the Mistborn Trilogy, if not better.

I can't wait.

Fangirl gushing aside, getting my hands on the paperback edition of Warbreaker, Sanderson's second standalone fantasy novel, changed my plans for this blog post. The prologue is a staple of epic fantasy, setting the central themes of a series, especially the prologue to the first book.

The Stormlight Archive will deliver more exciting magic battles and intricately designed politics like those that drove the plot of the Mistborn books. The only complaint that could be made is an overuse of capitals to emphasize new terminology, but I am a C.S. Lewis lover, so they make me happy more than exasperated. Most important to note, I felt involved in Mr. Sanderson's new world from that first line.

This is the job of a good prologue.

The proper balance of world building, characterization, and action in a prologue is a hard thing to achieve. The transition from prologue to first chapter also has to be considered in depth-it can make or break a reader's willingness to continue with your story. Some choose an action packed prologue followed by a first chapter that focuses on characterization, others choose a more historical bent to their beginning.

The prologue to The Eye of the World, the first book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, is a quick snapshot of the big conflict behind his whole story. This is not apparent upon first reading, but come back and read it again after finishing the book. The battle between Lews Therin Telamon and Ishmael is intense; huge amounts of magic are thrown around, and the system of checks and balances Jordan developed to keep suspension of disbelief is used in a way that can't be forgotten. When the first chapter starts with the mundane tasks of a small town boy, we keep reading to see how he could have anything to do with the power displayed in the prologue.

Balls to the wall action is not the only way to go. Many authors, including Papa Tolkien, achieve similar success by outlining the history of their important races. The prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring is all about hobbits, and that foreshadows the most important plot mover in the book, Frodo. David Eddings introduces his race of Alorns in the prologue to Pawn of Prophesy, though he does it in the form of a religious story as opposed to the historical style that Tolkien uses.

Eddings's prologue is successful because the first chapter in Pawn of Prophesy presents us Garion, an ignorant country boy. Whatever could he have to do with the deep religious history of the Alorns? We read onward to find out, just as we do in The Eye of the World. The first chapter is there as follow up, and the tag team punch of both is what grabs a reader with an epic conflict and believable characters to keep them reading your wonderful setting and awesome magic system.

The prologue is rather a lost art in mainstream fiction and other genre writing, but think of the importance of a good setup in sweeping historical tales and galaxy spanning science fiction. A prologue can help any story, if it is well written and followed by a first chapter that turns to the central characters.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Ways of the World: A Hero's Social Network

Last time on WOTW, I discussed the first five points of David Eddings's list of fantasy novel elements. His list starts with the bigger picture and works its way into the finer details, so the first choice you need to make for your fantasy novel, or most genre fiction, is theology. In fantasy, this is attached to religion, but even in mainstream fiction there is an inherent belief system behind the structure and theme of the plot, whether the author is conscious of it or not.

Number two is the proverbial Quest. In fantasy and a lot of sci-fi, you are searching for the magical thingamagig. In other genre fiction the quest could be for a killer, a long lost relative, some sort of material item, or even for the souls of the characters themselves. What your protagonist hero seeks out is element number three.

Number four is the hero himself, explicated as four major types. If they're clueless and the world is shown through their discovery of it, you have an Innocent hero. If they go gallivanting around trying to burn all evil to the ground, your Champion has arrived centerstage. If your hero perseveres through said evil with the help of moral character and strength of will, a Righteous hero you have, and the Loyal hero is trying to save those he holds dear. Any of these heroes will be brought into the fold of the story by a wizard, fantasy element number five. In other genre fiction, this character could be a professor, partner, or older relative of the protagonist. Whoever guides the Quest.

Which brings us to the other half of the list, which includes the heroine, the villain, the hero's companions, their lady friends, and the outer social structure of the world: kings, queens, government officials, inn keeps and co-workers. All the kings horses and men. These are the characters our hero surrounds himself with, his social network, if you will.

If you think about a Facebook profile (I've been forcing myself to learn it), the most prominent connection on your page is the one to your partner. It has its own little link right under your relationship status. In a story, this is the heroine to a hero, or in reverse-there are many fine female protagonists in literature, and in those books the main male character takes on this role. In stories that lack a certain romanticism, there could be two heroes or two heroines, with one taking the main hero role and the other their partner. This is one of the dynamics of Sam and Frodo's relationship in Lord of the Rings.

But who's the heroine in that partnership, hmm?

All joking aside, the majority of protagonists have a partner in crime. Or top friend. Or partner. They also need a villain to go up against. Fantasy authors are big on dark gods as villains, although it will often be some scion of this beast who does the real dirty work. This is the drama queen or troll of our hero's social network, that ex-friend that you blocked from all your messengers and your wall. We WANT drama in our novels, so no matter how annoying their net counterparts are, villains are essential to a story.

Next comes the gaggle of companions. As far as Eddings's Belgariad goes, this is where his characterization skills shine. The archetypes of Jung are there if you scratch the surface of his supporting cast, and, well, Mandorallen doesn't have a surface, so his portrayal of the quintessential Champion of all things right parades across the scenes for everyone to see. The hero of the Belgariad is an ignorant teenage boy though, so a right proper champion was a given. This gaggle of companions is your top friends list, the ones in your circle that you want to have easy, one click access to, much like the Fellowship of the Ring has easy access to Frodo for awhile.

All these close friends of our protagonist/hero/heroine have their own partners that have a quick link under relationship status. As you build out a social circle for your hero, these partners must be included. In a well developed story, they compliment and explicate the personalities of the hero's main companions. Mandorallen has a partner in the second series of books. She is a quiet, self sacrificing counterpart to his brash athleticism. Eddings uses the addition of female companions to help explain what happened in the 10 or so years between the Belgariad and Mallorean. Most of the lovely ladies appear in the first series, but only in a few scenes; providers of a bit of depth to each of the big strong men that accompany Garion on his journey. The amount of page time any of these partners receives is up to you, but their existence is an important tool to help flesh out your supporting cast, just as the heroine and companions assist in fleshing out your hero's history and character.

The final requirement on Eddings's list of fantasy elements is the inclusion of the outer circle of the hero's social network. In Facebook terms, these would be the celebrities on your fan list, the people you follow but don't know in a personal way. In an epic novel, these are the members of the clergy, kings, queens, and innkeepers, the characters that are the backbone of your story's settings. Their personalities must be distinct, even if they are just filling a needed role. All of Eddings's kings and queens have their own quirks. This helps his world seem more real to the reader. For every celebrity that joins a social networking site, the relevance of that site to everyone increases. These are the ways of the world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No Eggs for You!

Yesterday morning suffered from a severe lack of supplies. No coffee creamer and no eggs. I was, however, in full use of a stomach ache that wouldn't quit. This morning, it was the cold. Oh my god, the weather needs to decide whether it is winter or spring. The man and I both attempted to rehibernate this morning, and the boy still isn't up.

Why do I let such petty things get in the way of my goals? I don't know, it is the way it goes. I need to look up to Mr. Corgan and get up at seven am to get some work done every morning, but my body is not cooperating.

I don't think it is ever going to cooperate.

I was also going to write an article covering St. Patrick's Day for the bloggy people, but I don't think that is going to happen. I am not going to be on SecondLife for the majority of Wednesday, at least that's the hope, so why do I want to waste my time writing a free article about St. Patrick's Day locations?

Or maybe I am mad because a damn Linden blogger got to the wrestling story before me. And wrote the usual piss poor dry shit that comes out of that blog. Funny how ahead of trend my brain works, considering how little it lets me care about such things. Next time I have an instinct, I'll just go with it. That would've resulted in an article out at least a week before the Lindens put out theirs.

The primary problem isn't the corporate whores getting to an activity of interest before me. I am still pissed over my lack of motivation and discipline that lead to that article not being written by me, and the rest of my problems as well. House would be cleaner if I motivated myself better. At least one book would be done. I'd get my two entries into Virtual Writer's World every week.

Though I am honest with myself about that, she's been getting punished the last two weeks for moving my favorite writing place with no warning. Sorry Harriet, but the POS Scottish sim is not the same, the setup isn't exactly the same, and the entire feel is different. I'll suck it up and go to talk to other writers, but Milkwood no longer inspires me. And that's just sad.

Get it together. You keep changing and doing things on a whim, and it shows with the sites. No comments except from us, and barely any of those. Immature and unedited crap front and center when you're supposed to catch it. Stop instigating new events and moving sacred things around and handle your business, please. Your flighty crap is driving me insane, and I may have to limit my sl literary interactions to Bookstacks and the Written Word if you keep up this way.

Which you totally will. I have taken a step back from SecondLife in the week since the gypsy camp at Milkwood was moved, I almost want to thank the Mistress of Milkwood for that. If the break hadn't come along with depression. No one likes their favorite writing spot moved, even if it is virtual. Though this is all just another excuse.

I need to wake up at seven like my hero, Mr. Corgan. I'm writing soon after I wake, so maybe tomorrow I'll actually wake up on time.

Do whatever it is you do to pray for me, mmmk?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dear Mr. Corgan

Billy,


I hope it's okay to call you that. I have been a fan of yours for a long time. I read a recent interview with you in Rolling Stone. My man bought me the magazine to cheer me up because you were in it.


And some would say this is an oxymoron. I'm a total fangirl of yours, and even I have to admit you are a bit cynical and depressing at times. This interview was no exception, but I wasn't surprised or saddened by that. The fact that you had to call them did shock me a bit, but you are right in saying that you have always been undervalued. Sometimes whining is warranted. Not quite so much, but I am emotional to a fault, so I certainly understand you're upset at feeling forgotten.


I have not forgotten you. I still play Stumbeline, both from my repurchased copy of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and on my own guitar. “And what you never knew/Can never get to you”. Those words have gotten me through countless depressions caused by teasing in school. Then there's the song I would use as my wrestling entrance music, Mayonnaise. It has felt like my personal anthem more times than I can count, cause “no one fails like me”.


Except you of course, sir. It has been troubling to watch you since the New York incident, like the Moon card in tarot, secret enemies swirled around you and the music was affected. I love the acoustic versions of anything you have ever produced, but Adore hurt dude. Smashing Pumpkins and electronica refuse to mix in my head, even ten years later. Parts of Machina were great, though, and I Iove Zwan.


I swear I tried to convert others to the cause, my brother, but some of the songs were too damn happy. You confused us, it has been a common fault of yours since the original family split apart in such a violent fashion. In any case, and despite your faults and failures, you have always inspired me.


Thus, I declare you my hero, Mr. Corgan. Sorry to put such a responsibility on your thin shoulders, but no one else has ever come close to motivating me to be better. Motivating me to be depressed, maybe, and some say you do that to them, but not I. You speak so close to what I feel, how I see the world. I don't know how or why, it has always been this way, since the first time I heard Disarm.


That's right, I disagree on which is your sacred song. It ain't Today. That one is chump change compared to Tonight, Tonight. It is all good that you have released it to mainstream to finance further musical journeys. I want to hear them, be inspired to evolve. But please don't let me ever hear Tonight, Tonight in an Ambien commercial.


I'd vomit a bit in my mouth, and you don't want to inspire that sort of thing, now do you, Billy?


Now, how does this tie into the whole time management thing. Yes, I know I was supposed to be all daily about those posts and stuff, and I am still gonna try for that. Weeds got in the way for the past few nights. Awesome show, but I have been staying up too late watching the DVDs and not motivated to post about scheduling in the mornings. Billy said in the Rolling Stone article that he wakes up at seven in the morning everyday.


Well god dammit, then I am too, Mr. Hero.


This is an important step in my quest to have a more defined and productive schedule. Wake up time is now in slices, with a definite start and end, as I already have a ten am start time in place for the boy's lessons. Wake up time begins at seven am now, the end, cause that's what my hero does. I will then have my coffee with eggs and toast. Billy, you do the egg white shit but that's not my style, I'll have grandma's scrambled eggs and toast with butter, spanks. This is my Google Reader time as well, so I will be sure to have the Gmail open first to keep up with my reminders after all is in the schedule. Breakfast and Reader from seven to eight, then read or write from eight to ten depending on the day. As Tiger said, got to give myself options with the time so as to be sure to at least to one of them.


Not the fornicating golf player Tiger, my SecondLife buddy Tiger. All my little sl topic posts get cross-posted to her awesome magazine Slick. I need to get on more content for that blog. Gotta put it in the schedule. First we'll start with rising at my hero's chosen time. Maybe the quiet beginnings of a typical day in the neighborhood will inspire my Soothe. I surely hope so.


If I can stick to my hero worship, a detailed explanation of the entrance of this sliced wake up time will be forthcoming after my eggs and toast tomorrow morning.


Thanks for being an inspiration to me, Mr. Corgan, and I hope you manage to receive the recognition you deserve before you die. You have to know that's why they worship Kurt over you. Dating his insane, untalented ex did not help sir. But I forgive you.


With sincerest thanks,

June Stormcrow

The Ways of the World: Elements of Fantasy

There are many ways to approach adding plot elements to a story, but the list that inspired me to try my own hand at writing the type of books I love was the one in David Eddings's The Rivan Codex. Eddings wrote the list to be exhaustive in an attempt to deter those not serious about writing from writing in the genre.

Instead, it gave me the well defined road map to story elements that I was looking for. This review of his principles twelve years after the publishing of them in the Codex's introduction is going to focus on how they apply to books of the fantasy genre today, but writers of all genres can benefit from this approach to defining the essential elements of story.

First up is religion. In fantasy, you about have to pick one, it is often the backbone of the story. Eddings himself went pagan, though UL was the father of all the gods, orchestrating much of the ending conflicts between the two destinies that were the heart of the theological arguments in the Belgariad and Mallorean. Tolkien also had paganism as his religion, although he was devoutly Christian. It is interesting to note that C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia were Christian in theology, and one of Tolkien's main problems with the books was how transparent Lewis was in his choice of religion. In modern fantasy, we have Brandon Sanderson, whose Mistborn trilogy is rather monotheistic in theology, the evil power of Ruin set against the world's attempts to bring forth a benevolent God to oppose and supplant him. Robin Hobb's Farseer books contain many theologies centered around ancestor worship at their heart, which is a more pagan way to go about it. This choice is also important in other genres, the underlying religious currents of whatever setting you choose lend an important feel to any story, even if their influence is not as apparent as it is in an entirely created world.

Every story has a plot. The plot of a fantasy story is centered around the proverbial Quest. This is number two on our list of required elements, and a damn important entry at that. However, it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to specifics. Exactly what is our quest about? Well, that leads us to number three on the list, the magical thingamagig. A stone, a sword, a ring, a crown, a pink elephant, all that matters is that it is something imbued with magic power and desired by all who know of it, even the god(s). Eddings went for the magical stone with the Orb of Aldur, Tolkien has the One Ring, Sanderson's characters are obsessed with a horde of the magical substance atium, and Hobb's are unique in that the magic thingamagig is dragons themselves. All stories have quests, even outside of the fantasy genre. In sci-fi, you may still be looking for a “magic” object, though there is a plausible explanation for its extraordinary properties. Mysteries and crime dramas revolve around finding a perpetrator, and while their thingamagig is a person or persons, the plot to get to them can be paralleled with the classic fantasy quest.

Every plot needs a protagonist to center around, and in fantasy we call this character the Hero. There are occasional Heroine's – Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody is a good example of a fantasy heroine, even if she gets a bit too wrapped up in romance at times. Now, we could just call our Hero a protagonist, but in fantasy, as in any story, there is often more than one big personality running the show. The Hero is the one who gets the Quest, however. All others are there to help him along.

Eddings describes the types of Heros in terms of the Knights of the Roundtable, but I prefer to look at them in a more general way. Heros come in four essential flavors. Innocent, righteous, champion, and fierce. Innocent is what Eddings went with in his hero, Garion, and you could as easily name it ignorant as innocent in most cases. Tolkien had innocent heroes in the hobbits as well, although I feel one of the most compelling things about the Lord of the Rings is Tolkien's ability to center a story around so many heroes. Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, and Gandalf all take turns as Hero. In fact, the hobbits act as four parts of one Hero, with Pippin ignorant, Frodo with a righteous will, Merry as the most physically adept, and Sam fierce in his loyalty to Frodo and thus, the quest. These four types of main protagonist exist in mainstream fiction as well, Janet Evanovich uses innocent to great comedic effect in the character of Stephanie Plum, and Roland from Stephen King's Dark Tower series is a classic case of a righteous protagonist.

It helps to boil characters down to these general stereotypes at times so we can tweak them to create unique characters. Eddings does a classic job of this with the wizard Belgarath, a scamp and derelict of a sorcerer that breaks the fantasy mold of the wise wizard that is number five on the list of essential fantasy story elements. This is also Janet Evanovich's success with the Stephanie Plum character in her Number novels. The innocent character, surrounded by a cast of all the horrible criminals a bounty hunter comes in contact with, blows every serious scenario where the innocent character is supposed to get screwed into full on comedy. This drives the plot, you keep turning pages, wondering what sort of chaos she is going to run into next due to her absolute inability to perform her job as a bond enforcer properly.

However, neither Stephanie nor Frodo would be anything without their supporting cast, and all the baggage they bring along with them to flesh out the background and plot of a story. Before we cover all of them, maybe it would be best to sit down and see where the characters and situations of our current projects fit into this list of story elements. The religion, quest, object, hero and wizard are pieces of any story, albeit under many different names.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Side Project: Oh Google, Please Help me!

Me and time management have issues. I am very much an all or nothing sort of individual, and it makes scheduling anything difficult for me. My brain doesn't want to work along those lines, ignores my pleasant paper reminders. I tore down the "Get Out of Debt Plan" a month ago. It's not like the man or myself sticks to it at all. We both made sincere attempts to reduce spending, but a more realistic plan needs to be worked out. Like, with actual numbers and stuff.

Life is cluttered beyond the finances though. The root of the entire problem is that we aren't the best at scheduling our days. I have a firm block schedule in place, but in practice, I am finding that it is not enough structure to me. The blocks need more slices, clearer defined times. Yet, how do I do this without walking away and ignoring it like I do my other lists?

This is where my call to Google for help comes in. I have tried the Calendar function before, but it didn't translate in more motivation to take nature walks or hit the Absolute Write Sci-Fi chat like I had hoped, due to a complete lack of checking that email address for the reminders. As I am now quite fond of Gmail and Reader, this is no longer a problem.

How far do I go in my slices, however? My other efforts to schedule often suffered from being too detailed, and thus, too hard to follow without feeling I had put myself in a straight jacket. The current "schedule" consists of six blocks of time: wake up time, morning school, lunch, afternoon school, dinner, after dinner. The after dinner section consists of two slices already - family time and after kid's in bed time. I thought this obvious openness would give me some structure without overwhelming me, after a long period of life being too chaotic to even dream of scheduling it. It has helped me bring structure, just not enough. I flail in the mornings and evenings, so many things that I could do overwhelming me and leading to inevitable shutdown, fried brain mindlessly roving SecondLife, Twitter, or Reader instead of writing something, ANYTHING, or doing one of a hundred things around the house.

Housework is never "done". It's one of the reasons I despise it.

I feel an overwhelming need for more balance in my life. Over the coming months, I hope to use the Google Calendar to its fullest, bending its functions to my will and slicing the broad divisions of my schedule into more structured pieces of a whole that will be more productive. Today I am about spent after weeks of insomnia, agonizing over how to better organize my time. Seriously. Being less productive than I feel I could be makes me depressed, until I burst in flaming tears. Tomorrow I'll come to a conclusion about how to divide my broad blocks, following my friend's suggestion of "give yourself a choice". All slices of time will have two options. It works with the boy's schooling, it could translate to the rest of our time.

Where does Google fit into all this again? I hope to use its connection of Blogger, Buzz, Reader and Gmail, along with the Calendar and Document functions, to make my real life and online life more streamlined. Let's see if email reminders work when my lazy ass actually checks the email account they go to, shall we?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Full Steam Hunt


Just got back to me office after checking out a few places on the 2nd Annual Steam Hunt, a grid-wide scavenger hunt that has shown me all the various awesomeness the steampunk culture has added to our virtual home. A few of these places were fixes by the owner, and two others were in hopes of being able to find some well hidden gears. I succeeded in finding one that had eluded me.

I have been on a few other scavenger hunts since I rezzed a few months ago, stumbling upon the first at the shop of one of my friends. The Bitten and Frost Hunt was a great idea, and did introduce me to many cool things on the grid, and other hunts, but the two path concept lead to confusion that the organizers and store owners could not seem to eradicate. I eventually gave up about 50 stores into the Bitten Path, having been lead astray by other hunts and non existant snowflakes quite enough for my taste. I dabbled in various Christmas hunts, and my inventory exploded with much higher quality free stuff than I was used to.

I had to take a break from hunting during the Valentine's season, though I do have a few bleeding hearts in my collection from stores I frequent anyway. The Steam Hunt is very well organized. I happened to be on late last Sunday, so received the notecard containing all the landmarks in a group notice right at midnight on the first of March. You can join the hunt group yourself and receive the hunt information here. They are also on top of fixing any broken links in the chain of stores.

The purpose of these hunts is for there to be a benefit for all parties involved. The theory is, by hiding a small object - usually associated with the theme of the hunt, the Steam Hunt uses bronze spinning gears - you keep the hunters in your store long enough to count towards the traffic rating of your shop and also, long enough for things to rez properly and customers to be won, groups joined, and landmarks picked up because the hunters wish to return another day. But why let yourself be exploited in this way?

Well, the contents of the gears are not your average freebies. Some joker put in this crazy, oversize, mechanical steampunk bonnet, but overall, everything I have opened has been fab. The dress at Arieala Andel & Serrita Ember Store has garnered ten compliments this weekend. The jewelry set from Amaranthus is high quality as well, my avatar is wearing the earrings. This is a stretch for me in any life. Jewelry has to be perfect, or I just won't bother.

There are plenty of adornments for male and female avatars. +ezura+ even has a guys' suit in their hunt gift, as do about half of the clothing designers participating. I have two new pocket watches to try out, and all bracelets and necklaces seem to have male and female versions, at least in terms of size. Gadgetry and fantastic buildings abound as well. Builder's Brewery created an awesome Steampunk Cottage just for this hunt, and the Tripod house from Enzo's is a green windowed whimsical dream. The monocles from my favorite dark Alice in Wonderland store, ..::Rasetsukoku::.., and Mire, an excellent men's store, are perfect for any aspiring inventor or creator.

So how do you get all this great free stuff for your very own? You go hunt about the stores, of course, searching high and low for those elusive spinning bronze gears. Some stores have hints, some do not. Some participants try to hide the gear near their steampunk inspired creations, others shrink it and hide it behind, or even embedded in, their displays. The hiding of the gears is at the participating creator's discretion. Now, I will admit to not being the most observant person in the world, and I found 127 of 130 gears. You can too.

My favorite friend while on a hunt is my camera controls. If you do not already have them up on your screen, they are under View in the upper taskbar (unless you are using the Beta of Viewer 2.0, in which case they are on the bottom). The control to the left rotates your view, the slider in the middle is zoom, and the control to the right moves you side to side and up and down. You can only zoom so far, so sometimes you will have to play with the two crosshair controls to see behind things and find the gears, or whatever object is being used for the particular hunt you are on. There are at least ten hunts going on gridwide at any one time. Linden Lab would do themselves a favor by adding these scavenger hunts to their main site, it's a good way to get a new person oriented with the controls of their avatar and the true vastness of this virtual world we call home.

In short, if your inventory has been feeling a bit lean, you feel the need to get out of the house on a LOW budget, or you just want a slew of new things to play with, head over to the start point or any of the stores listed in this blog and get yourself full of steam, like my clockwork squirrel buddy and I.



Thursday, March 4, 2010

Milkwood Poetry Festival

Time for a little shameless plugging, folks. I have been accepted as a reader for Milkwood's 1st Annual Poetry Festival. This scares me, but in a good way.

I have played the role of hermit writer for a long time. The draw of SecondLife for me lies in the opportunities to connect with other writers here. Part of connecting with other writers is reading your work out loud, and it has been a long time since I have participated in an open mic. Fear and transportation have gotten in my way for about five years now. The grid takes care of my transportation issue, at least.

Fear is a harder thing to handle. The literary community in world is full of talent, and I have come to respect the work of my fellow writers here. The lineup of the poetry fest reads like my most wanted list. Flawnt Alchemi is leading off the festival at 1Pm Friday, at the Bookstacks Performance Space. I adore his use of language. Rosemary Serenity will be reading at Storybook Dell, 1:45PM, her introspective musings on human nature always inspire me. Another must see for me on Friday will be Stosh Quartz at the Stone Circle, 2PM. I enjoyed her poetry workshop at the Haunted Library the few times I could make it. The other workshop she's involved in, Saturday mornings at 10AM, at The Blue Angel Poet's Dive, has been a quest of mine from my first Saturday on grid. It would seem a perfect time for me, with the afternoon just settling in here and laziness the name of the game after a week of schoolishness. Various rl and sl things have gotten in the way, and the time of the workshop does, well, float around a bit. I will catch a full one this Saturday morning. Maybe.

Back to the poetry fest and my quest to get over the inevitable stage fright that settled in when I received a request from Harriet Gausman, the lovely mistress of Milkwood, for an author biography. My brain screamed help and my fingers flew to the Google search bar. I found some good advice, and spent an hour crafting a little blurb about myself, rather skewed towards my avatar persona, such as it is. Self promotion is a skill that I am still learning, partly by reading, mostly via trial by fire. I feel relatively squeemish doing it, but there's nothing to do but try. At least I am reading on Saturday.

Friday afternoon will be spent taking in the sights of Milkwood to the accompaniment of words whose beauty may surpass the view. While I furiously take mental notes and get my setlist of poems ordered for my own reading Saturday at the Stone Circle, of course. The grid has given me a wonderful new source for deadlines. Harriet is a gentle taskmistress, though. I work better under pressure, it makes me force my brain to a stop and go forward with an idea.

I am on after Rosedrop Rust, a poet I enjoy and respect a lot. The one open mic I can get to with any regularity, Literary Night at the Hotel Chelsea, has been graced with his presence on quite a few happy occasions. His particular brand of word whimsy is always enlightening, and slightly twisted. His poems make me smile. After all that joy, maybe my fears will be erased and I can sail right through my thirty minutes of personal horror without so much as a stutter. I'll just imagine all the avatars are wearing underwear, yeah. Or is someone willing to do me a favor and come that way?

I didn't think so. Damn.

The party of poetry at the Stone Circle on Saturday also includes Klannex Northmead, pirateneko poet extrodinare - pray he reads Peaches, everyone - and Huckleberry Hax, who in addition to being a poet also writes stories using the uniqueness of the grid as a setting.

Sunday's readings are going to be housed in the cozy Haunted Library Room, perfect for the weaving of words on an early spring afternoon. That last statement about spring may be wishful thinking, but let me have my dreams people, please. The dumping of snow on the east coast led to one aborted Blue Angel workshop attempt, and one complete miss. Corwyn Allen, reading at 3PM, shared a deep and descriptive work in progress at the part of a workshop I did make it to. I look forward to hearing his words, while ensconced in a rich, velvet covered chair, surrounded by dark bookcases, and in front of a roaring fire.

Right now, the yearning for that moment is making the draft in my office more noticeable. April, save us! I shall take solace in the writer's fantasy that is Milkwood, and let the words of my fellows and my own leap of faith propel me through March, to glorious spring.

The entire lineup of poets for the 1st Annual Milkwood Poetry Festival is as follows:

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Flawnt Alchemi - 1PM - Bookstacks Performance Space
Morgue McMillan - 1:30PM - Outside Milk Wood Library
Rosemary Serenity 1:45PM - at Storybook Dell
Stosh Quartz - 2:00 - 2:30PM - at the Stone Circle
Kezhen Yheng - 2:30-3PM - at the Stone Circle

Saturday, March 8th - Stone Circle
Rosedrop Rust - 1:00 - 1:30PM
June Stormcrow - 1:30 - 2:00PM
Donjuan Writer - 2:00 - 2:15PM
Morgue McMillan - 2:15 - 2:30PM
Klannex Northmead - 2:30-3:00PM
Huckleberry Hax - 3:00 - 3:15PM

Sunday, March 7th - Haunted Library, Milkwood
Wolfgang Glinka - 1:00 - 1:30PM
Kamille Kamala 1:30 - 2:00PM
IU's Man in Black - 2:00 - 2:30PM
Aianna Oh - 2:30-3:00PM
Corwyn Allen - 3:00 - 3:30PM
Manx Wharton - 3:30 -4:00PM

This is an event enabled by voice. Please do not feel pressured to speak, only encouraged to listen. All times are SLT.

I love having fine print.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Meaning of Art on Second Life®

The SLCPro event this week certainly came with a lot of announcements about Linden Lab's current projects, including the release of the Viewer 2.0 Beta to the public and the unveiling of their new Third Party Viewer Policy. After losing myself reading about all these developments in the blogs, the one that stuck out as the most interesting to me was the establishment of a Linden Endowment for the Arts. While the prospect of LL putting this much behind a particular community on the grid is intriguing, what really drew me into this conversation was the questions that immediately sprung up in the comment section of the forum about WHAT sort of arts the endowment was meant to support.

Niko Linden admitted that if you ask one hundred people their definition of art, you will get a hundred different answers. The vagueness of the post that sparked all the debate of what art was deserving of such a program may have been due to the project being in nebulous stages, or a move to gauge the breadth of art that is on the grid by the contents of the applications they receive. The comments on the blog may be the most pointed feedback they find on this new initiative, and the Lindens involved with the initial planning stages that led to the post do appear to be listening.

What is art is an age old question, and this virtual world of ours draws in residents that wish to express their creativity in many forms. Do we, as writers who may not be involved in much of the content creation aspect of the grid, deserve to be eligible for an endowment to support our use of the grid to expand our sources of inspiration and ability to network? Are musicians not real Second Life® artists because their exploitation of the platform is more in the way of being able to personally access a worldwide audience? Should the Linden endowment only benefit those that integrate their art with 3D capabilities to the "fullest" extent they can?

There aren't easy answers to any of these convoluted questions, but then again, that seems to be the way of much in the social experiment of the grid. I personally think that the Lindens should bestow their grace on any art or artist that breathes new life to the grid through their creations, no matter what aspect of the environment is making it an unique experience.

The ability to hear original music through the live venues of the grid has been a godsend for me, I would never get to as many shows as I have in the last month without Second Life®. It is not the same as going to a bar or an arena, but that has a lot of benefits as well. No crush of people, no expensive tickets, cover charge, or drink prices, and you can still talk with your friends. Depending on the artist, they may even have an SLCD for sale so you can take the music home. A more personal way of finding new music than Myspace or Facebook, and more entertaining as well.

Visual art is also a driving force behind my grid explorations. There is art in many of the builds of the grid, sometimes in the most unexpected places. The ability to buy original art to hang on my virtual walls is also a great bonus of the Second Life® experience for me. I enjoy seeing the work ofl visual artists in the environments they wish to build around it. There is a lot of experimenting going on with 3D visual art on the grid as well, and the shared media aspect of the new viewer can only serve to heighten those possibilities.

As writers, we are mostly using the grid for networking and workshopping our current projects with fellow writers, but shared media may open many new doors for us as well when it is more universal. I believe it will make it much easier to network, and also easier to share our work between ourselves and amongst the rest of the residents of the grid. Some would say ours is the art form least deserving of an endowment from the Lindens, as most sharing of content in the literary world of sl is done through audio or offsite forums. Notecards are still the most basic of notepad documents, and texturizing our work is not really an option for novelists. I have some great ideas for doing my poems in illuminated form as scanned textures, but have yet to start that project. The upcoming poetry festival at Milkwood will hopefully inspire me to truly get to work on that project.

Should the endowment be for art that could not exist without content unique to Second Life®? Or should the Lindens be accepting of all artists that have a presence on the grid? The meaning and purpose of any art is such an endless source for human discussion, it will be very interesting to see what eventually comes of these initial plans, and what it means for all the artists of Second Life®.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Beta is Crashtastic!

I started writing this blog post while waiting for my inventory to reload on 1.23 viewer. My beta testing of the new 2.0 viewer for SecondLife was FAIL in a lot of ways, yet it succeeded in showing me where Linden Lab is very shortsighted.

I also have a greater sympathy for those that have a lot of problems crashing on the current viewer because they have older systems. I am going to be in their shoes if I am forced to use 2.0 to stay involved on the grid. It is how "games" go, though. The new versions always require the latest hardware, no matter what they say in their minimum requirements. Now, you say, SL is not a game.

When it comes to its use of computer resources, oh yes it is. Which brings me to the point I would really like to discuss in this blog. How is this viewer going to improve the new user experience when their hardware is not going to be able to handle it?

I spent a lot of time on Myspace. I met a lot of cool people there. I did not, however, meet a lot of people with high end systems, unless they were a power gamer, or needed the functionality for their work. The average, casual user of the internet has a computer relatively close to mine in specs, which in SL terms means at the very minimum of listed requirements for Viewer 1.23(my current choice), and if my experience with 2.0 is any indication, below the minimum needed to run Viewer 2.0. Shoot, the one friend I almost got on SL with tales of a virtual wrestling federation had issues with 1.23 crashing the second time he logged in.

He hasn't been back. He went to City of Heroes, better customer support and better game performance on his machine. This a dude who would have spent hundreds of dollars here over time, and gotten his father's business a presence on here as well. All lost because Linden Lab expects casual users to have top of the line machines. More to the point, his machine is only a year old and had issues. You can't retain users like this. You can't live in an imaginary world where everybody has top of the line computers and expect to get new users. Do the Lindens live in SL and pay no attention to the average net user? I believe that is the truth of this matter, since the Facebook style of the chat is an obvious push to get some of that crowd.

If the problems of this viewer crashing on lower end systems are not solved, this may be the death knell for SL in the internet media. If they succeed in getting new users over here from Facebook with their "noob" friendly interface, they're going to lose the majority of them at the first crash. It's that simple. People expect the magic box to just work, dammit. Those are 75% of your heavy users on social networking sites. If they had computers set up to play the newest bells and whistles online game, they would be there, not building up plots on Farmville. I know this, because I have a lot of friends that try to get me to play the Facebook apps with them. They'd be here if their system could handle the viewer.

In conclusion, the UI is perfect to lure in the noobs, but the push will fail the first time they crash. For those with a real urge to join the grid, they might give it a few more tries. I have crashed about 20 times in the past two days trying to test out the features of the new viewer. Media on a prim is great. The sidebar smooshing my view of the world is not. It crashes my graphics card. It would also be nice to use my inventory at all. I'm not sure if my full inventory has downloaded ONCE during my beta test experience. I am pretty sure it hasn't. The most consistent thing that threw me into FAIL? Searching my inventory. As soon as I type a letter into the search bar, it is instant shutdown. I could try to toss it off as just an issue because I use Linux, but I don't think that is the case. Said example friend is a Windows user. In fact, 1.23 never crashes on Linux for me, but if I try to run SL in Windows, I join the legions of crash abused.

Sorry Lindens, but new users aren't going to run out and buy a new machine so they can spend enough time in SL, without crashing, to get hooked. You need to make the sidebar an overlay or you're not going to retain the majority of the new users you're looking for. So sad that you have made most of your current residents irate over a viewer that won't work effectively for the audience it is targeting. So sad. Get out of the techgeek bubble you live in and learn about what the average internet user is running to access the web. Then build a viewer that will actually work well on their machines. If you don't, I may have to leave the grid. I have never been fond of watching anything die.