Sunday, November 18, 2018

With a number of years under my belt (as well as on top of my head, upon my brow, at the corner of my eyes, in my back, and hanging over my belt), I suspect that I know more now than I knew as a teenager; I'm just not as confident in what I think I know as I was then. I think Dickens was actually referring to being a teenager when he wrote:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...

It was indeed the best of times. The teenage years were largely fun and relatively carefree. It seemed like the worst of times because there were a lot things that tasted like canal water and ashes--speaking purely figuratively of typical teenage experience regarding the things society and future productivity as an adult required. Of course it was the age of wisdom; teenagers knew everything (and still think they do). It was the age of foolishness because nobody would pay attention to the simple solutions which they knew to be supremely true that would fix everything.

Adolescence is a bridge of ignorant confidence--with rickety guardrails at best--to the suspicious shore of  hesitant adulthood. In some cases, that bridge extends well past the shore into the 30s and 40s before the hard knocks, slaps, kicks, and punches of reality sufficiently illuminate the territory to dispel both the ignorance and the confidence.

There is more to be said about this, but I'm not going to say it.

On to less important things.

First, I'm nearing the 30,000 word mark in the new novel and am writing in the sixth chapter. I'm rather enjoying this particular journey.

Second, Justice Resurgent will go live before the end of the year--maybe before the end of November.

Book Review
I finished reading The Elven by Bernhard Hennen.

General Thoughts: The book aspires to be Tolkienesque. It re-imagines elves and the elven world in a way loosely based on Norse mythology. I read the Kindle version which I got for free through Prime. The hard copy is 765 pages long, but it seemed like a mere few thousand pages while reading it.

Story in a nutshell: Two elves love the same elven woman, Noroelle. She has been unable to choose between them for over 20 years. There's some boring courtship. In short, there's nothing that makes the reader at all interested in any of these three. A human is pursued by a supernatural beast into the elven realm. Some elves, including the two lovesick friends, help the human defeat the beast. They have some degree of success, or maybe not. Noroelle gets banished. The rest of the book is the quest to find Noroelle by the two elves and the human. The story takes hundreds of years--both for the characters as well as actual reading time.

Do I recommend it? No. The book isn't horrible; that may be the best I can say for it. I contemplated abandoning the book every time I read it through nearly the first 50% of the book. The writing wasn't terrible, neither was the story. It was a quick read in the same way that the Indy 500 is a drag race. Of all the characters, only the human character had any depth, and he was a viking in the classic stereotype (although, I have my doubts as to whether the vikings had any stereos--the word never even came into use until 1823, according to Meriam-Websters). The story wandered as if it were being made-up on the fly. Even after the long, long adventure (did I mention that it's extremely long) and spending oodles of time with these characters, I never liked them; I never liked the elves in general or any of them in particular. When the end reached the inevitable conclusion (although there were some unexpected twists along the way), I really didn't care. The conclusion dragged on, and on, and on. I rate it: A Massive Feast of Sawdust--the table is loaded to overflowing; one can eat and eat and eat and never enjoy a bite.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Writing, like passing gas, is best pursued in solitude. I've read a lot of the former which closely resembles the latter delivered via keyboard. I digress; that was not my point at all. My point, gaseous though it may be, is that writing can sometimes be a bit lonely. It's one man (or woman) and the barren, desolate arena of the blank page. The seats of the coliseum remain empty. The midday sun blisters the brain with an incessant intensity as the pressure to populate the stands and to create the spectacle drums relentlessly. Who should I invite to the arena? What is the nature of the spectacle? Is it a combat or a performance? Will anyone other than me ever care to read this? Why would they? So, should I bother?

Of course I'll bother. Writing isn't a choice; it's more of an affliction. No. Writing is a joy. Writing fiction is to slip the surly bonds of the mundane to soar on the turbulent yet fickle wind of imagination with characters who become friends--invisible, nonexistent friends, but friends nonetheless. I tried having an invisible friend when I was a child; it didn't work for me; I could never get past the fact that he didn't exist. Even after I gave him a name he was a lousy friend--he wouldn't do squat for me: no chores, no eating my vegetables, no playing with my sister so I wouldn't have to--nothing (Although, maybe I was expecting too much from an invisible nonexistent entity). Eventually, I forgot to pretend that he was there, because he never was. On the other hand, even as child, I do remember making up stories with characters who also didn't exist, but who did adventurous things that I would never get to do; they were much more fun than the invisible kid who never cleaned my room (I thought that he did once, but it turned out to be my mom who cleaned it).

Let me reshape these vapors back to my original point. Writing is a solitary activity for me. The arena frequently grows crowded with characters and fast, furious action; the stands fill with adoring spectators, and I have a great time with the characters in my head as they spill their adventures across the formerly blank page into something short of reality but to which the act of writing gives an aura of permanence. Whether any actual person will ever care what the alternate-reality French girl of my novel says to the dragon huntress, or whether she escapes from the clutches of the cunning and murderous lord of mysterious power remains enigmatic.

The reward at the end of the lonely journey is to have someone read the writing and validate the trek by expressing appreciation or criticism of the work. Of course, once they do make such an expression, I make sure they regret it by trying to talk about the story and characters with them until they have to chase me away by hurling sharp stones and sharper imprecations in my direction. All of which leads, finally, to my purpose, or purposes of my aeriform observations.

First, my wife has finished reading Smoke. She has grown weary of my interrogations. Before she became so fatigued, she did, like all of the other women who have given me feedback on the book, reveal that she liked Pip more than any other character. Surprisingly (to me at least), she also liked Joan more than Monica. Second, I get around waiting for the validation until the end of the journey by asking a few people to read excerpts and tell me what they think. Some actually do. The feedback gives me a tiny shot of excitement to resume the journey with ardor. (Don't ask me who Ardor is or why he or she is on the journey; some guests may have a purpose even if they weren't invited--what's an arena for if nobody gets thrown to the lions?).

Because it's good to get confirmation that you're describing this:

rather than this:

before you get too far into the carpet sample (or gaseous cloud). While each certainly has its purpose, one is a poor substitute for the other.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

I am enjoying viewing via Vidangel The Last Kingdom series. I finished the last episode of season one this week. There were many annoying points in getting to this season finale, including, but not limited to, Uhtred losing his head and doing stupid things in anger so that Alfred can react by imposing a ridiculous punishment--such as having the only two competent commanders in his army fight to the death. Fortunately, an attack by the Danes upon Winchester prevented the completion of the punishment and both Uhtred and Leofric survived to become key players in Alfred''s defeat of the armies of Skorpa and Guthrum.

I read Bernard Cornwell's book of the same title upon which the series is based several years ago. It's a whole series of books but I only remember reading the first book. I was reading it at the public library during my lunch break. We moved away, and I can't remember if I got to finish it or not. I would like to read the series, albeit more cheaply than what I see for the book or ebook prices. Others have already written at length about the series--and I haven't checked to see what they say. I'm only addressing the final episode of the first season because it struck the perfect chord.

The picture below is from the culminating battle. It represents that perfect chord, the most satisfying moment of the first season when Alfred and his Saxons triumph after his return from the marshes. I note the second most satisfying moment of the season was earlier in the same episode when that sack of rancid gall known as Odda the Younger finally found peace through steel; his own father had to let the air out of him with a fatal thrust to shut the traitorous coward's mouth.

The journey to the season finale was frustrating and laborious, but Alfred's triumph with Uhtred's crucial assistance cleared away all those frustrations. The previous long struggle, the loss of the capital, the disappearance of Alfred to the marshes, and his quiet return to call the English (or the men of Wessex) to arms at Egbert's Stones proved to be very inspirational, blending all the strands into the perfect concluding chord. I wondered if Tolkien had based Aragorn's rallying of the Army of the Dead upon Alfred's gathering. The triumph of Alfred and the army provides the emotional payoff for the season--superbly rendered. It was a bit of a Henry V moment: "If we are marked to die, we are enow to do our country loss; and if to live, the greater share of honor."

In other news, my primary proofreader has returned the draft of Justice Resurgent with her notes and corrections. She is always very helpful. She had good things to say, and admitted that she cried when--well, obviously I can't tell you or it will ruin impact. So the sequel to my first book is nearing publication.

The new novel has moved along rather well this week. A lengthy third chapter brings together the strands from the first two chapters and sets up the course of the adventure. I think a reader should have some idea of where the story plans to go by the end of the third chapter. I found that having outlined the novel in general, I can now outline each chapter in more detail before writing it and the writing then goes much more quickly. Chapter four is outlined and underway. The direction is to Boston Harbor--hence the picture above. The main characters is this story are unlikely to say a line from Henry V that amuses me: "...but I will sell my dukedom to buy a slobbery and dirty farm in that nook-shotten isle of Albion."

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I don't know where I found this, but Halloween time seems like a good time to use it.
I'm not sure if it was a photo taken at a Star Fleet party, or an image from an unaired episode involving the Enterprise returning to earth circa 1800 and Kirk having difficulty remembering the finer points of that Prime Directive thing. 

In addition to writing a very satisfying chunk of the new novel, I caught a couple documentary movies on Prime, and finished a very good book. 

This movie was great if you're into history in general, and the French Revolution in particular. I didn't realize that it is the 2nd part of a two part deal. The movie appears to have been filmed in English--but is in French with English subtitles. It features Jane Seymour as Marie Antoinette, and Sam Neil appears briefly as LaFayette. There are others I recognize but I don't remember their names at the moment. Perhaps the first half provides more explanation; this part begins in the terror with no explanation about who is doing what or what the sides are etc. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it very much. It also reminded me of the "Slice-O" brand guillotine ad that a friend and I did for economics class when I was a sophomore in high school. On a more serious note, I think there are some present day parallels with the events and attitudes depicted. I'll leave you to watch it and draw your own parallels (if you have that sort of artistic ability--I can only draw flies). 

This film is more like a movie and less like a documentary. The Terror is shown is some fairly disturbing detail. The camera cuts away before the terrible contact of the guillotine's blade, the pitchfork's tine, or the skull to the wall--but the sound is still there. On the one hand, Robespierre eventually got what was coming to him; on the other hand, Danton's speech may have been the best part. The link to the movie is at the bottom of the page.

This movie was interesting. It's more documentary and less movie. I highly recommend it. The link to the movie is at the bottom of the page.

Book Review
Young Washington by Peter Stark
General thoughts: I can tell that I have a marked preference for a book when I neglect the other books that I'm reading in order to focus on only one. It's like having a plate full of various fine foods, and finding that you enjoy one of them so much that you consume it entirely and ignore the others. This book took me away from the other books on my current reading plate. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have only one criticism. The author does a lot of speculation about how Washington might have been feeling at various times, asking a lot of rhetorical questions and such. That annoyed me intensely. Fortunately, the bulk of the material is factual, historical, well documented, and presented in a manner that is clear and relates an exciting story.

Story in a nutshell: The young future president's commission to take a message to the French to vacate the Ohio River Valley results in a splitting headache for Jumonville that no amount of aspirin can cure. The young officer is forced to surrender to the French and Indians, and sets off a global conflict between the French and British. He whines quite a bit, acts heroically, and whines some more. He seems to be the lone hero of Braddock's debacle, but never could get himself appointed as a Royal Officer. He goes through experiences that undoubtedly helped prepare him to command the Continental Army.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely! Nonfiction is almost always better than fiction, but this history is better than much nonfiction as well. A quarter of the book is made up of bibliography, footnotes, index, and additional notes. The story reveals how busy Washington was; it sheds more light on both his character and his exploits than I was taught in any classes that I ever took. I rate it: Mandatory Meat for the history gourmand. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The four musketeers are painted. I must say that my painting skills occasionally soar to heights very nearly approaching the underbelly of mediocrity. This wasn't one of those times (I'll aspire to mediocrity another time), but sometimes it happens.

Aramis, Porthos, Athos, and D'Artagnan.

More importantly, the manuscript for Justice Resurgent is (I hope) being proofread by one of the extremely talented people who suffer though such things for me. But the most fun I had this week was writing on, not one, but two novels. A while back I started writing a new novel, but I felt guilty that I had not yet done the sequel to my YA Fantasy Finding Jack Book One The Orb (FJBOTO, or The Orb). More importantly, a particular fan of that book keeps insisting that I write the sequel right away. So, I decided to ease my conscience, get that fan off my back, and work on the sequel: Finding Jack Book Two The Rod (FJBTTR or The Rod). I can't stop the new novel either, so I have to do both. That's a rookie mistake, but it's how I wrote Smoke, Justice Resurgent, and The Orb--working on all three until I had to focus on each one in turn to write the last portion of each.

I had to re-read the last couple chapters of The Orb to get back into the right mindset, and to pickup right where the first book ends. I'm only a few thousand words into it, but it's a fun one to write.

Here are a couple excepts from The Orb, copyright 2016--used with the author's permission, of course--all other rights reserved. These are from the last third of the book. (Also, the paragraph indentation didn't transfer properly).

Nazanzires stirred. A familiar fragrance filled her olfactory receptors. A certain and distinctive incense lingered in the air. Her eyes snapped open as she recognized the scent…of sorcery. Magic had been brought, or wrought, within the confines of her den; a whiff of wizardry mingled with the usual odors of her habitation. Like an aromatic spice, the perfume permeated the entirety of the cavern.
She turned her head about, searching for a tell-tale stream emanating from the source of the odor. In a few seconds she had found not one, but three sources. One source she traced to the wall where she knew it had been for a time; but now it had been activated, and its odor aroused. There she also found the trace of two humans, each with the scent of sorcery upon them.
The location of the familiar item radiated a pulsing red hue of a scent. The other two streams smelled of latent, unused power; one bore a swirly pastel scent. The other struck her suddenly; even in its dormancy it burned with a steady white intensity.

Nazanzires reared back in pain and anger as the piquant white scent seared her nostrils. She felt an instinctive wave of wrath rising within herself. She opened her jaws and, with more than a hiss, but less than a roar, spewed her fiery breath at the area with the heaviest concentration of the stinging stench. She drew back to the far side of the lair. She ran her scaly tail along the wall, rapidly clicking the bony ridge scales against the rock. The action served as a sort of release of nervous energy, a calming exercise. She knew that smell. She knew its source. She would regain her composure before she left the lair to pursue the thieves, one of whom bore that baneful stone.
Jack closed his eyes, expecting to be consumed in flame. He opened them a moment later to see fire nearly engulfing himself and the stranger; but the fire turned away, unable to penetrate some unseen shield that protected the two of them.
“You’ve been rousing monsters. You won’t live long here!” the stranger shouted grimly over the sound of the pounding flames.
Jack didn’t have any response. He looked around. Vinto lay unmoving near the tree where the horses had been tied. The horses were nowhere in sight.
The flames stopped. Jack glimpsed the silhouette of the dragon rising from its swooping attack. The beast flew over them. As the dragon passed, the stranger rose, and ran toward a patch of trees, nearly a hundred yards away.
Nazanzires turned back toward the sorcery. Her first flaming onslaught had been ineffectual against the power of the stone. She knew that her fire could not penetrate that shield. She also knew somewhat of the workings of the stone. She knew that eventually her attacks would deplete the power of the stone. Then would the bearer be at her mercy.
As she turned, Nazanzires saw the bearer of the stone running away. She swooped back toward the retreating figure. The figure turned, holding a strange object in one hand, the stone in the other. The figure pointed the strange object at her. She stuttered in her flight as a force struck her. Delayed, but not deterred, she continued toward her target. Again the wave of force struck her. It was stronger this time, but she only shuddered under its impact without breaking off the attack. She dove downward, spewing flame.
Jack managed to roll to his stomach. He pressed himself against the earth, and the dragon swooped over him toward the stranger. Standing now, the stranger held the orb between himself and the dragon. The beast’s flaming breath beat upon the unseen shield without burning the stranger. But the stranger was being forced backwards, as if he were inside of a ball being pushed by a strong wind.
When her fiery breath stopped, Nazanzires did not turn away. She came straight at the stone-bearer. Only as she was about to impact the figure did she pull up to drive her talons toward her target. 

I note that The Orb is available now for only $0.99. That's real value!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

No miniatures painted this week, very little proofreading, and little writing. I did get some reading done. I finished a book--review below. New books started include The Elven, The Red and The Black, Young Washington, and Napoleon: A Life. Le Loup Blanc remains on the list, but I didn't make any progress on it; The Colonization of North America is also in the currently reading file, but I didn't read much on that one this week either. I did autograph a few books on Saturday at the local coffee shop.

Sometime this week while wondering about words, I had reason to suspect a thing that I had not previously expected. In retrospect, I wonder, by way of a little introspection, why I had not considered the prospect. I inspected, and can only respect the results from Meriam-Webster Online:

Middle English, from Latin suspectare, frequentative of suspicere to look up at, regard with awe, suspect, from sub-, sus- up, secretly + specere to look at — more at SUB-, SPY
Middle English, from Latin respectus, literally, act of looking back, from respicere to look back, regard, from re- + specere to look — more at SPY
Latin exspectare to look forward to, from ex- + spectare to look at, frequentative of specere to look — more at SPY

Latin inspectus, past participle of inspicere, from in- + specere to look — more at SPY
Middle English, from Latin prospectus view, prospect, from prospicere to look forward, exercise foresight, from pro- forward + specere to look — more at PRO-SPY

I hadn't thought to wonder about "spy," but all the --spect-- words pointed there so...

Middle English spien, from Anglo-French espier, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German spehōn to spy; akin to Latin specere to look, look at, Greek skeptesthai & skopein to watch, look at, consider.

Mystery solved. It all looks Latin to me. I guess "spectacle" and "spectator" are also from the same Latin root. But when I type "spectacles" into Meriam-Webster, the result takes me to "glass."

But enough of the wondering about words. There's a book to review!

Stiger's Tigers by Marc Alan Edelheit.

General Thoughts: This book reminded me of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Rifles. I enjoyed the entire Sharpe's series. The writing for Stiger's is deliciously lean on description. It's clear and plain without seeming elementary. I suppose the story has a bit of a grim dark edge to it, as well as being sword and sorcery, and military fantasy. Most of the story is military based. The presence of an elf is the tip-off that we're not dealing with the historical Roman legions. The story moves along and never bogs down. I got the ebook on special for free, or for $0.99.

Story in a nutshell: Legionary captain whose name carries some baggage is transferred to a new unit. He must whip them into fighting shape, stay alive, avoid political problems, and assault the castle.

Do I recommend it? Yes. It's a worthy emulation of the Sharpe's books with the fantasy Roman-esque legions substituting for the 95th Rifles. Although it is predictable, the story is fun, and seldom lacks for action. I liked the military adventure aspect better than the fantasy aspect; it could have been a fine book even if the fantasy element had been eliminated. I don't recall much by way of character development. The main character is already as he is likely to remain in general. Some development of the relationships between the main character and the supporting cast occurs--but this is a book about military men doing mighty things, not some namby-pamby story about feelings with tears and tea cups. This is a story of sharpened swords, heavy shields, and pointed spears moving forward through the mud, the blood, and the fear--but there was no boy named Sue in this story. I rate it: A Rollicking Romp.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

I've had some musketeer miniatures from Redoubt Enterprises for some months and have never got around to painting them. One reason being that I'm not a gifted painter. My paint jobs are best observed from a distance in dim light. I did three this weekend. Below are Rochefort, Richelieu, and Aramis.

Only about 20 more of those to go.

Last time I mentioned this movie.
Empires Collide - That's not actually the title; it's what I remember of the title.

It's really a documentary with a lot of computer animated sea battles; there is also some live action that's not particularly well done. As entertainment it's only a couple notches above a cat video. As for being informative and interesting, a Ken Burns' film it's not, but I liked it very much. A year or so ago, I was wondering about the fall of the Dutch Republic. While this documentary doesn't address that particular question, it does explain the Anglo-Dutch war(s) and how the Dutch traded New Amersterdam (New York) for England itself. Of course, that's not exactly true, but the Dutch did lose that colony, and William of Orange invaded and became king of England. I recommend it.

Book Reviews:
Fatemarked by David Estes
General Thoughts: Based on the reviews and sales, lots of people liked this book. I'm not one of them. I got the book for free either on Prime or some other special. I don't remember. There are some 1 and 2 star reviews. One of those reviews mentioned that the best thing about the book was the cover. I have to agree.

Story in a nutshell: There are 4 kingdoms (I think) and the prophesy says that 8 kings will die. People with special marks on them have special powers: healing, death, and I don't remember what else. The story follows these marked people, jumping around from one to the other, without ever piquing my interest...and therefore I don't know what they ever did. I bailed somewhere short of halfway through.

Do I recommend it? No. The 1 and 2 star reviews seem to sum it up pretty well. A confusing story line and uninteresting characters are the main complaints. It seems to be marketed for both teens and adults, yet is suitable for neither. I couldn't take the incessant inner whining in which the characters wallowed, and the talking-it-all-out to discover the respective traveling companion's inner pain. I rate it: Wading Naked Through Broken Glass with a Side of Salt for Your Wounds.

Faerie Tale by Raymond Feist
General Thoughts: This was a find at the local used bookstore after I read some online recommendations at a page for fantasy genre readers. Published in 1988, this book reeks of the 80's. That's actually what I liked about it. No cellphones, no internet. One of the characters is a writer and gets his first word processor. Reading it was like watching an 80's movie based on something from Stephen King. Many years ago, I read and enjoyed Feist's Rift War Saga.--and I remember nothing about it. I had high hopes for this one.

Story in a nutshell: A family buys a house and weird things start to happen. A hidden key, a hidden room, a secret map, a strange wood, and an ancient and powerful organization, collide to culminate in a showdown with evil.

Do I recommend it? No. The book is over 400 pages long. It moves slowly, finally building to the climax that has become inevitable. Two characters are 8 year old twin boys. I don't think the author had spent much time with 8 year olds. These two don't act like 8 year olds; they act at least 12 in most respects. I didn't find those two (who are critical to the story) to be believable characters. I also wasn't persuaded that their mom was a real person either. Although, when you're talking about visitors from, and to, the Faerie world, that seems like a bit of a strange thing about which to complain. And yet, I do because if the reality part doesn't ring true, the fantasy part just rings hollow. Additionally, the sex and profanity detracted from a potentially good story. By the time the story concluded, I felt like the destination hadn't been worth the journey. I rate it: Pandora's Box--best left unopened.

It seems like my last few reviews have not been favorable. I'm going to have to post the review of Treachery of Daimyo--which I really liked. I should probably be reading the last two books in that series instead of getting cheap books that disappoint me.

Speaking of cheap books. Look at this:

I read this book some months ago. I had read and enjoyed the Spellsinger series up to that point when I was much younger. I couldn't remember if I had read this one. I read it and remembered that I had, and why it was the last one that I had read. I didn't care for it. But my point here was the price of the paperback: $975.66????? I got it from the used bookstore for $2.00--but that's probably the mass market paperback. I have no idea what the edition is that goes for nearly a grand.