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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson, whose writing credits include Elantris, is the first book in the eponymous  epic fantasy/dark fantasy trilogy.

After reading it a single term comes to mind: Mirror Image. Specifically a mirror image to his first novel, Elantris. Both are set in cities full of despair ruled by barbarous leaders who care little or nothing for those who they lord over, the streets are covered in grime (whether liken or ash) and all around you the broken remnants of once proud humanity huddle in the corners waiting to die. But while Elantris focuses on the people on top (noblemen and  priests) Mistborn is told from the point of view of slaves, thieves and street urchins.

Both feature a well thought out magical system which is woven into the the plot line, so much so that Sanderson has become the master at turning his extensive world building into an key elements in his plots. Figuring how Allomancy (the use of certain allows and metals which are consumed in order to deploy certain magical powers) works is as crucial to Mistborn as figuring out how the Elantrians lost their power in Elantris. Just like his first book, Mistborn is choke full of interesting characters, especially strong female leads (in an interesting reversal, the main female character in Elantris doesn’t have any powers while her male counterpart does, in Mistborn it is the female lead, by the name of Vin who has powers that surpass all others). It also starts a bit slow only to pick up speed half way through the storyline and rush to the end (with a bit of deux machina thrown in at the last second) and the villain(s) doesn’t get as much development as they do in Elantris. Religion is also a noticeable element in the story, but not as crucial as it is in the first book.

Following the mirror image metaphor, Mistborn feels like a stand alone book (even though it is the first of a trilogy) while the ending of Elantris (which according to Word of God is a stand alone tome) feels like the precursor to a much larger story. That doesn’t make Mistborn a bad book, on the contrary, the twists are interesting, the characters are compelling and if you liked Elantris, then Mistborn is a must.

Well of Ascension and Hero of Ages are on my to buy/read list.

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Art by somniturne. Click on the image for more of this artist work.

My cousin is once again at the helm of our gaming group and he has offered to run two different campaigns (alternating between them every few weeks). The first is a return to Scion, an urban fantasy game where the characters play demi-gods while the second is an offshoot of the 3E (D&D) Freeport campaign using the Rune Quest rules (Pirates, Guns and Cosmic Horrors lurking in the shadows). In order to get a feel for the characters, he sent us a series of questions:

Swords against Sorcery: Character Questionnaire

Character’s Name:

Nicknames, If Any:

What do you look like? Eye color, hair color, ethnicity, distinguishing marks or features, clothing, jewelry, and gear…

What are your hobbies?

Who and where is your family?Where are you from?

Do you have any secrets, and what are they? Why do you keep them?

What do you believe in ? Explain.

Do you live in Freeport? For how long?

If you don’t live in Freeport, why did you travel there?

What motivation do you have to stay in Freeport?

What was your Background event?

Did any other character tied to your Background event? How did he tied his fate to yours?

What is best in Life?

And I could not but answer in the form of a short story.

—–

From an article by Jonathan Jacob Tryst, for the newspaper The Swift

I made my way through the summer night’s haze inside the Salty Sailor, made all the more redolent by the thick smoke that clung to my clothes. Dodging wenches, sweeping tankards and puking drunkards I arrived at the back of the tavern. A cubbyhole sheltered a rickety wooden table, two simple wooden chairs and the subject of my piece. I convinced my boss that the paper needed an exciting story that didn’t come from the merchant side of the street. A peek at Freeport’s underbelly and to my surprise he agreed. I pushed aside the low hanging angler’s net.

“You’re late, mate,” said the stranger from under the hood of his cowl.

“Sorry about that,” I said.

“Well, let’s get on with it, shall we.”

I slid a small money pouch across the table, covered by my interlaced hands. In Freeport, few will pass the opportunity to snatch gold or silver if they see it. The bag disappeared into the folds of the stranger’s cloak. I took out a roll of parchment with a tiny ink bottle and pen, “Right then, you work for The Swift, eh?”

“One and the same, sir,” I said.

“Your money, your questions, your time, and your drinks if you’ll pay for them,” he said with a smirk.

“Oh, yeah.” I ordered ale for me, and rum for him. “Name?”

“K, just K.”

“Kay?”

“No the letter K.”

“But my readers will want to know who you are?” I protested.

He raised an eyebrow with a tiny diagonal scar that matched the light brown hair that spilled from under his hood, “Those that know me, will know who am I. Those who don’t, don’t need too.”

“K it is. Well how would you describe what you do?”

“What is it that you think I do?”

He was playing games, perhaps trying to coax a few more drinks from me, although he only sipped his rum, his grey eyes darting to and fro no doubt looking for trouble. “You are a thief.”

“Gentleman thief and explorer, thank you very much.”

“A gentleman thief? I didn’t know there were different categories to thieving?”

“Of course they are. Just like no two pair of tits are the same, so it is with thieves. You have your cut purses, your merchants, your pirates and your thugs and then you have me.”

“And what exactly sets a gentleman thief apart from the rest?” I asked.

His smile widened, “You are a writer alright! Well, I liberate riches from those who have too much too give to those who have too little,” he said pointing at himself, “and do so while leaving them with a smile. Smiling men rarely give chase, mate.”

“And besides liberating wealth, what else do you do?”

“Gamble, travel, read, and romance the loveliest women my charms, rum and gold can buy,” he poked the parchment with a gloved finger, “and you can quote me on that, in that exact same order, if you please, sir.”

“And where are you from?”

“Form where else but here. I learned all that I needed on the streets of Freeport and at the gates of the Temple of Knowledge.”

“And do you have family in the city?”

He squinted, “Now that is an awfully personal thing to ask, mate.”

“I don’t need any names, Master K, just something to give the piece some depth.”

“Well, The Swift is nothing if not thorough, eh? Not like that rag, the Captain’s Logbook, eh? Nothing but filthy gossip in those pages, wouldn’t wipe my arse with it even if they paid me.”

“Of course not, about that family, sir?”

“Oh yes. Eight brothers and sisters, Me Mum died young, Dad remarried twice and well he tried his best to provide for all us, but I have that many cousins, aunt’s and uncles too, so, oft I went, to the streets, to the Temple and then to sea.”

That was an interesting tidbit, “So you traveled beyond the Dragon’s Teeth?”

“Of course, can’t know the ways of the world unless you traveled them.”

“And how many enemies have you made along those ways?”

“Enemies…” he rested his chin on his right hand while twisting his half-empty mug with the other, “few, maybe. A rival here, a competitor there, but enemies, no, I’m not in the business of making enemies, mate.”

“Few people are, but Freeport being what it is, it’s bound to happen.”

“Indeed, but I take care of my enemies right quick, mate. That’s why I pack powder and blade. Slash keeps my enemies at bay, Hellhound shoots them down at ten paces and Kidney’s Stone silences the rest.”

“And those are?”

“My rapier, my pistol and my dagger, names are clear enough, I think.”

“Of course. But why do you stay in Freeport?”

“No better place in the World, none by far. Sure, you got your whores, your robber barons and your killers, but you got your gold, your ladies and your odds here too. Life is a gamble from the moment you’re born, mate. Don’t you forget it,” he said with a wink and a nod.

I was getting somewhere, “Have you met anyone of interest in your travels, Master K?”

“I met sailors, pirates and escape criminals, although it’s kind of hard to tell the difference between the first two and the last was wrongly accused, or so he claimed. The lady on his arm was oh so very lovely, by the way!”

Another evasion, but I had just enough to fill in the blanks, “And what do you think is best in life, Master K?”

“A life well lived, mate!” he raised his tankard and downed the last drops of rum.

——

And now for some music:

I didn’t know where to post this, if in my regular writing blog or in my sci-fi one, since my current WIP is science fiction, but it is really about writing, so I decided to to split the difference I post it here.

This current WIP is by far the most ambitious I tackled: epic in scope, with lots and lots of characters, political intrigue, detailed world building and multiple POVs. So it should not come as a surprise to anyone that it has been sloooooow going. Lately when I write, if I write at all, I end up writing something that in my gut feels wrong. Maybe it’s the placing withing the plot, or I’m using the wrong POV character, or maybe I started the scene in the wrong place. Feels more like a shore than a joy.

Yet I keep coming back.

Can’t help it.

Cross out entire pages, write some notes to sort myself out and start all over again.

And then something happened yesterday and today. I started the next scene and it felt right. The action flowed, the dialogue was snappy and the story moved forward.

It felt good, really good.

Sure, I’ll have to rip it apart in the re-write, but damn it felt good to be a writer. The feeling of being in the “zone”, pen fluttering wildly, thoughts flowing freely, the narrative coming together.

I missed that feeling.

What will happen tomorrow, who knows and I don’t know how long it will last, but hey, today was a good day to be a writer.

—–

It happens to all of us (writers that is), our minds overload with ideas, jamming our train of thought and skewing our writing course.

Which means, that sometimes you just have to stop, download your brain and keep going.

Yes, download, as in downloading files from/to a computer or server.

Happened to me last week. I was gong through a bit of writer’s block. No, this time around I wasn’t bullying my characters into doing something they didn’t want to do. Instead a set of ideas bubbled up from the ether and into conscious foreground. A figure stood at the mouth of a dark alley, fedora shielding him from the pouring rain and at my feet laid a dead body. Everything was in black and white except for the bright red stain of blood in the corpse’s chest.

I looked at the figure and he said “My name is John Malone, Psychic Detective.”

How can you say no to a guy with a smoking automatic on one hand?

I sure wasn’t going to try.

So the downloading began.

How exactly did I do that? Did I invent a neural interface so that my thoughts would be converted to Ones and Zeroes and travel from my squishy brain to the desktop’s hard drive.

Of course not.

Pen and paper. Lists, time-lines, notes. That’s what I’m talking about. Now, I am not to just start writing the moment an idea seizes me. I don’t keep a notebook under my pillow. I let my thoughts marinate in the deep fryer of my mind for awhile. Sometimes they disintegrate in the slop or retreat back to the ether, but this character just wouldn’t go away.

“My name is John Malone, Psychic Detective.”

Notes, yes notes:

Setting: Grant City, U.S.A. Midwestern City, Alternate Earth, 1920s-1930s.The Great War lasted until 1920 and ended with the occupation of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Anatolia (modern day Turkey). Revolution spreads throughout the world. European Empires bankrupt. Prohibition becomes the law of the land, gangland violence and racial tensions are on the rise.

Main Character: John Malone-Psychic Detective. Psychic powers are all variations of empathy. Also suffers from an extreme form of colorblindness.

Influences: Comic Books, Crime Stories, Early 20th American History, Film Noir, The Dresden Files

Genres: Diesel Punk, Short Story, Alternate History, Science-Fiction, Comic Books (Watchmen and Sin City).

And so on. By writing it down I can clear my mind and refocus on my current WIP. I can also tell if it’s just a straight shot in the dark or something I can work with at some later time. Think of it as a bit of mental (not as in crazy mind you, although…) Spring Cleaning.

Rubbish out, clean air and useful thought patterns in.

At least I hope so. 😉

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Final reminder that the “Behind the Headlines” Blogfest kicks off tomorrow, April 5. Can’t wait to read what you wrote.

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And now for some music by Chicane-Saltwater: