Friday, September 28, 2012

Company!

Entertaining this weekend.  Next chapter up Monday or Tuesday.  Cheers!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tooth and Claw: Chapter Two

Prologue, Chapter One

                Uma leans against a lamppost on the corner of 3rd and Kinsley.  She scratches her jaw just below her right ear, rolls her shoulder a couple times before folding her arms again.  The Sun’s getting to that position in the sky – it’s about closing time.
                She sighs, and it turns into a yawn.
                She stares lazily out at the pedestrians and motorists passing by.  So many people.  So many places to be.  So busy, busy, busy.  She drums her fingers on the biceps of her left arm.  Scuffs at the sidewalk with the thick treads of her dusty trail-running shoes.
                Then she smells something else on the air, under all the exhaust and sweat and sun-baked pavement.  Breathes deeper.  That’s him, no doubt about it.  She looks down toward the Old Trails Museum, sees Elias climbing into his red pickup.  He starts it up, adding his own note to the stinking symphony of the downtown atmosphere.
                Uma unfolds her arms, hooks her thumbs into the pockets of her jeans.  Elias spots her as he pulls up to the corner, turns the steering wheel a little more to his right, and rolls down the passenger window.
                “Well, aren’t you a fine sight to see,” he says.  “Hop on in.”  She cocks an eyebrow at him.
                “Flattery will get you nowhere,” but she climbs in anyway.  “Turn left.  Unless you’ve got someplace better to be.”  She shuts her door and buckles her seatbelt.
                “Not anymore,” he says with a grin, and hits his blinker before turning onto 3rd Street.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tooth and Claw: Chapter One

Prologue

                Della Swain walks through the streets of North Las Vegas, her head weighed down with thoughts.  She was trying to draw what happiness she could from the last few days she would be able to enjoy, but her mind turned constantly to how wrong everything in her life was going.
                When she was a child, she had felt special.  Her parents were devoted to her, busy though they were, and she had relished their attention.  She was something extraordinary, then – or so she had felt.  Then her little brother had been born, and she saw with bitter jealousy that they raised him with the same care and attention with which they had raised her.  “Of course you’re still special, my love,” her mother had told her.  “But Virgil is special, too, in his own way.  You both are.”  She found in time that everyone was special to their parents – and if everyone was special, then no one was.
                And so her parents’ love had been stolen from her.  Oh, they still loved her – of course they still loved her – that hadn’t changed.  But what had once seemed to make her special was now tainted with the dulling ordinariness that threatened to swallow everything in her life.  She had read some of the child-rearing books on her parents’ shelves, attended some of the seminars where they learned How to Be Good Parents, and found that no matter who she was, no matter how she turned out, they would have treated her with the same care and love regardless.  “Praise” and “attention” were “positive reinforcements” that were part of a “strategy.”
                That wasn’t special, that was so ordinary it was a slap in her face.
                She went through puberty, and all the attendant changes it brought, and boys had begun to look at her in that special way.  But when she watched more closely, she saw that they looked at other girls in the very same no-longer-special way – not just other girls, but all girls, and men were no different.  That lusty, appraising gaze wasn’t for her, it was simply how men looked at women.  Nothing special there at all.  She got the undeniable impression, whenever a boy would ask her if she was going to a ballgame or a dance, that she wasn’t being asked for who she was but only because she was a girl.  Any girl would do, and that wouldn’t do for Della.  She wasn’t just any girl, and so she made up her mind that no boy looking for any girl would stand a chance with her.
                Nevertheless, the world seemed Hell-bent on treating her like any girl, the same way it treated every girl:  sit down, cross your legs, hands in your lap; don’t speak too loud, it’s unladylike; go here, do this, just like all the other girls.  Wear makeup.  Buy perfume.  Smile.  Just like all the other girls.  She was determined to be unlike all the other girls, but no matter what she did, it seemed that someone else was always doing it, too.  Even the girls who didn’t want to fit in with the “mainstream” managed to fit in with each other, and what was that but another kind of mainstream?  Come on down and be the first to conform to the brandest-newest style of non-conformity!  No matter who you are or what you do, you fit in somewhere, and Della didn’t feel like she fit in anywhere.  You’re into boys?  That’s normal.  You’re into girls?  That’s normal.  You’re into both?  Also normal.  Don’t like either?  Don’t worry – you’re still normal.
                She didn’t want to be normal.  She didn’t want to fit into any category, she wanted to be beyond them.  She wanted to be beyond them all, to be utterly unique, she wanted people to know when they looked at her that she was absolutely unlike anyone else they had ever seen.  But no matter how she dressed, or spoke, or acted, the world always seemed to have yet another place for her to fit in to its horrible, ugly, every-day normal.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tooth and Claw: Prologue

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law –
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed.
 - In Memoriam A.H.H., Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on,
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
 - Budget of Paradoxes, Augustus De Morgan

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.
 - The Nameless City, H.P. Lovecraft

Prologue:
Beginnings from Endings
May 21, 2012

                Thomas Morgan slaps his own face, dragging down his hand with exaggerated care.  A hush falls over the crowd seated opposite him, as if he had struck a gavel and called for order.  Edward Cochran stands, alone, facing his judge; Edward, alone, remains deliberately standoffish.
                “You don’t get it, Edward,” Thomas says at last.  “We have these rules for reasons, reasons which are borne out not only in long-standing tradition, but also in our research literature.  Your callous disregard for our ways and your victim’s well-being has put them both into jeopardy:  now we must deal with the legal ramifications of your actions to protect our way of life, and we must figure out what to do with the young Miss Swain.”
                “I don’t see why she can’t join our society.”
                “That is not the issue, Edward.  Of course Miss Swain will be taken into our care – your foolhardiness has necessitated that already.  But she is in for a difficult life.”
                “Della knew the risks,” Edward replied.  “I explained everything to her.”
                “You told her what she wanted to hear,” Thomas says in a deliberate monotone.
                “Uh, yeah, because it appealed to her in the first place.”  Thomas folds his arms at Edward’s flippant delivery.  “She wanted it.  You can ask her, even now.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Four and Four: Some Mood-Setting Bits

Not by me, I must say.  But still, inspirational, and/or related.  The first half is an excerpt (OK, four excerpts, but conjoined as one) from an old and epic poem.  The second half is Canadian swing.  Dig it.  :)

In Memoriam A.H.H.
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
(Queen Victoria said that this was her sole comfort, aside from the Bible.
I'm not so sure that's a solid recommendation.
But hey, what do I know?  I just think it's rad.)

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace
Believing where we cannot prove;

Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death, and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.

Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him:  thou art just

Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, thou:
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"The Tower," a World of Darkness faerie tale

I used to play Whitewolf pen & paper games with my friends (almost entirely the new World of Darkness, with few exceptions), and one of my favorites was Changeling: The Lost.  I wrote this story as a background for my character about five years ago (it's also the "first appearance" of the name "Samantha Rose," which I re-used over and over because I liked it and am bad at naming things); I just dug it up to provide some "mood lighting," since the setting for my new book is Definitely Not Whitewolf.  Ugh, that needs unpacking to not sound even stupider than my last book idea.

During one of our Mage:  The Awakening campaigns, we had a Rules Lawyer in the group who was famous for arguing with the Storyteller ("Dungeon Master") about what certain antagonists could do and whether something made sense given the rules.  For Mage, since we had all read the whole book to decide who we wanted to be (and to not need the rather complex mythos explained to us at every plot point), our Storyteller hit upon a rather ingenious idea:  "The source book is simply what mages think they know about the world.  When something comes up that disagrees with the book, surprise:  the book is wrong."  The Rules Lawyer, unsurprisingly, didn't enjoy being in a world where he couldn't at least have an Out-of-Character handle on everything that was going on.  I, by stark contrast, loved the idea of being in a world with flexible rules that was driven by creative inspiration rather than conforming to a spreadsheet.  But then, I'm not a Rules Lawyer...

That's rather what I'll be doing with this next book:  I'm adapting elements from various World of Darkness settings just to have some starting material, keeping and renaming what I like, and discarding what doesn't fit or is just ugly/silly/stupid.  I'm also doing some amateur mythopoeia of my own, which I tried to avoid for the sake of simplicity, but turned out was inevitable when I found myself drawing up a chart to align certain characters by zodiac affinity.  Keep in mind, the zodiac isn't what matters - it's just a mechanic I used to get things arbitrarily started.  After that, the way those alliances all play out and the things the characters do within their context, that's the actual interesting part.

Anyway.  That should all be very reassuring, I hope.  :)  Here's the actual freakin' story.  Enjoy!

The Tower

Samantha opened her eyes.

She was in a large room, dimly lit by candles, laying on a cot.  She didn't know why she was there.. she didn't know where "there" was... she didn't know who she was... she didn't know anything...

Suddenly alert, she stood up to figure out what was going on.  Her clothes were ragged and torn, her joints a bit stiff.  Looking around, she saw that she was in a circular room with one door.  Moonlight fell in through one of several small windows, separated by large bookcases.  Each window held a lamp, and there were two on the large oak table in the center of the room.  At the table was a single chair, and upon the table was a single book, open, with pen and inkwell beside it.  She tried the door; locked.  The windows were too high to look through, too small to climb through, too narrow to gain a firm grip; she could reach only the lamps hanging just before them.  At the foot of the cot was a small chest of drawers.  One drawer was full of neatly arranged inkwells, another held bottles of what she assumed was lamp oil, and the last was full of empty bottles and inkwells.  Underneath the pillow, she found a golden key.  She picked it up, intending to -

Samantha recoiled in horror as the flood of memories washed over her.  She remembered her life - growing up in Anaheim - her parents - junior high softball - boyfriends - high school gymnastics - college studies - visiting her uncle - catching bugs - and thorns...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thoughts on "The Stand"

I finished reading The Stand a couple days ago, which along with Lucifer's Hammer was part of my crash course in apocalyptic literature.  I linked to the TV Tropes pages for those books because I'm going to be discussing The Stand primarily in terms of storytelling mechanics, so really, that's what's most useful here.  Also, beware that I'll be linking to the pages for a lot of the tropes I mention (because that makes it easier on you, Dear Reader, if you don't already know the lingo), but that means you'll have to be vigilant against wiki-walks (because TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life).

OK, that paragraph up there, it took me over an hour to write.  Not because I was trying to decide on word choice or whatever, but because I fuckin' clicked on my own damn links and then got sucked into mini-wiki-walks of my own ("Bellisario's Maxim?  What's that?  'Contrast to Moff's Law'... what's that?").  So I'm being serious here:  there will be a lot of links, so you should only click on something if you don't know what it means.  (Really, everything should be fairly apparent through context - but if it's not, here's a link.)  And even then, you should make sure to read only until you understand the trope I'm talking about, then close that tab.  Capisce?

As a "final starting note," I feel I should point out that this is not a review of The Stand, it's criticism.  I liked The Stand, even if it took me about 700 pages to "really" get into it (I read the monster 1,141-page uncut edition).  I also recognize that it's one of King's earlier works, and that it's over 35 years old.  None of these exempts it from criticism, of course; but please realize that none of this is done in anger.  The fact is, though, that I casually mentioned one day that I prefer King's later works - The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon remains one of my favorite books of any kind to this day - and someone said The Stand would change my mind.  It most definitely did not.  This post is about why.  THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

101 Interesting Things, part forty-nine: Silk

I have an endless fascination with macroscopic properties that are explicable in terms of microscopic properties, dating back to high school when I learned why the structure of water makes it a universal solvent, why the alignment of iron can result in magnetic fields, and where pH comes from.  (When I asked my chemistry teacher, "What does pH mean, though - like, what's the thing that number's based on," she responded in a monotone, "Negative log of the hydronium ion concentration."  After about ten seconds of goggle-eyed musing, I understood exactly what that meant and have never forgotten it.)  It's also what caused electricity to be irreducibly magical to me, until I came to see voltage as a kind of "electrical pressure" - then, like, a million phenomena and failed experiments all clicked into place and I felt like a dummy... but an enlightened dummy!

So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite books of all time is Napoleon's Buttons:  17 Molecules that Changed History, by Penny LeCouteur and Jay Burreson (well here's an interesting tidbit:  my copy has this cover design, but that subtitle).  The sixth chapter is on silk and nylon, nylon being developed for the purpose of being an artificial silk.  Other interesting tidbit:  in technical chemistry terms, "artificial" and "synthetic" mean two different things; "synthetic" means "laboratory-produced but chemically identical," whereas "artificial" means "not the same thing but has the desired properties" regardless of its method of production.  So "artificial sweeteners" are "fake sugar"; they're not really sugar, they just do the thing we want sugar for; whereas "synthetic vitamin C" is the genuine article, real ascorbic acid that happens to have been synthesized in a lab instead of being derived from a plant.  (This difference is articulated somewhere in the book, but at least four of the seventeen chapters deal with the difference and I refuse to track it down.  I've been procrastinating long enough and only need some pictures, anyway, because the rest of the important information is just in my head.)

Anyway.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cross-post: Adventures in Taxonomy!

One of the unwritten problems with Tabula Rasa was that I kept wanting to interject little bits of the supernatural, but the whole blessed point was that the world was completely mundane.  So I sloughed them off to another story I had been thinking of which was legitimately about the supernatural.  Eventually, I had so many fragments and ideas shoved over there, it started becoming a story in its own right.  I know a story's good when characters I give placeholder names get names of their own - I'm famously bad at naming things, you see - and now I've got so much that I can't not write it.

First, though, I have a bit to write about silk for 101 Interesting Things.  And before that, I've got this humorous little bit that I pulled off from my Playskool blog.  The bit about the Wheel of Death waxes fantastical, but the rest of this is a real conversation that I really had in real life.  No joke, it's almost literally word-for-word, because I wrote it all down right after it happened (and, when I went wiki-walking, even jotted down notes on the story so far).  Anyway, enjoy!

"There are only three things in the sea:  fish, amphibians, and mammals.  OK, maybe a couple plants."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

On Bullets, and the Biting Thereof

I can't do this right now.  I thought I could, and if I just jumped in feet-first then I could power my way through it and clean it up in post; but no.  Tabula Rasa is officially scrapped for now (again), because as I try to iron out how I want everything to go, I'm realizing that it's just not workable in its current iteration.  Reasons below the cut (they're all spoilers, so beware - it's mainly a list of reminders to myself of "Problems I Need to Fix Before I Can Actually Write This Shit").