The Validity of eBooks

“The ebook is a stupid product: no creativity, no enhancement,” says the Hachette Group CEO

Allow me to scream about this ebooks are stupid thing for a bit, thanks.

I work in a library so I am literally surrounded by books for a good majority of my waking hours. In my day to day life I can easily pick up physical books for free to read. I wouldn’t have to go out of my way. Having access to physical books is part of my life.

Why am I telling you this?

Here is a fun fact: I read more digital ebooks than print. If I were to estimate, it would be upwards of 90% of my reading is done via a screen. I say as I type this up on a screen and read that article on a screen and have another browser with a book I was reading up on my screen. While yes, many of us can say that, when a lot of reading is online. I say that with reading upwards of 100 books last year. Most of them were digital.

There are a few reasons I read a lot digitally, but honestly the main one is ease of access. I always have my phone with me. Let’s be honest, I don’t want to carry the latest doorstopper fantasy novel, however, if it is right there on my phone I can easily read it when I am out and about, or just sitting on the couch and don’t want 20 pounds of paper sitting on me. I have cats for that. Doorstopper fantasy novels really impede the cat cuddling. Phones do not. I am saying this as a person who has the capability to pick up that book and turn those pages.

What if you can’t do that? Ebooks make content, yes, the exact same text as physical books, available for a wider range of people. There is nothing wrong with that. That’s amazing!

For a brief moment, consider garlic. Before it can be used garlic needs all of that outside paper peeled off and then the cloves themselves to be chopped up. First you have to take apart the head of garlic. You need the dexterity and the strength to take them apart. Now imagine if your hands ache with every movement. Then you need to be able to do the delicate work of taking off the thin sheets of papery membrane that hide the meaty garlic from you. Now imagine if your hands shake with every movement. Now you have to mince the clove. Imagine you cannot grip a knife without it slipping from your hands.

Now imagine someone started selling garlic paste in a easy squeeze tube.

Oh yes, garlic is back on the menu. (As a human person who injures her hands on a regular basis, I love garlic paste.)

Ebooks are garlic paste.

Does reading give you eye strain? Switch the background from light to dark. It’s easier to read, and if I recall anything from my Education degree, a light font on a dark background can help some people with dyslexia and learning difficulties.

Speaking of dyslexia, you can swap out fonts. Generally, sans serif fonts are easier to read on screens than serif fonts, swap it out. Many eBook providers will also give a font option like OpenDyslexia ( https://opendyslexic.org/ ) providing even more people with access to information.

Are you hypersensitive to textures and smells? Bam! Digital books don’t have bothersome ink and paper.

Do you struggle with mobility? Downloadable content without having to struggle out of your house is a life saver. I’ll give a little library plug here with a lot of local libraries have access to various digital libraries. Overdrive ( https://www.overdrive.com/ ) is a great resource for  looking into that.  

If you have gotten this far and think: None of these situations apply to me. I would like you to consider two things. Thing one: empathy. Oh, that isn’t enough. Ok, let’s move on to thing two: being able bodied is a temporary state.

We age. We get injured. We become ill. It’s easy in the moment to think oh I love the smell and feel of pages beneath my fingertips. Until it becomes hard to turn that page.

 

As an aside: If you want to support writers and have no money, please please please check your library for a digital library before resorting to downloading a free copy from somewhere… questionable. If you can’t find what you are looking for, suggest it! Seriously. We want to know how to best provide for our community!

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Worldbuilding: Magical & Mundane

There comes a point in creating a magic system you have to decide: What is magical and what is mundane?

When I say magical there I mean the sort of magic that is hidden and reverent. The sort of magic that is spoken about in whispers and veneration. This is the magic kept secret and passed down and down and down until it is as much myth as magic. The magic that, despite being as real as anything else, has passed into legend.

Then there is the other sort of magic, the sort of magic imbued in everything a character does. It is in the sweep of a hand and a muttered word to light a fire. It is in the quick stitches to fix a pair of socks. It is in the glimmering songs sung to a child. The second nature magic. The everyday magic. This isn’t the magic beholden to a wizard in a secluded tower.

This is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive– far from it. Instead, when creating a magic system for your world you need to find the line. Is your world the sort of place where you can hop down to the general store for a magically-imbued potion, or is it the sort of place where magicked healing is myth, a legend, something for your protagonist to search for?  Or can they go to the general store so some ailments, but others are far outside the reach of a local hedge witch’s power? It’s the middle ground– the magical mundane if you will.

My personal tastes run as magical as mundane. I love it when magic is within everyone’s grasp, not something confined to ivory towers, or blood, or some fated destiny. I’d much rather a story where magic runs through the world as immutable as life and death. Magic is not confined to that destined party of three who will save the world, it is with everyone, a force for all rather than a few. However, that’s just me.

To give yourself a grasp on where your line between the magical and the mundane is try a day long writing activity. Here is what you are going to do. For one day write down absolutely everything you do. Write down the minutia of your day. Seriously, if someone else was to read this account of your day, I would want them to think the phrase horrifying detail, then back away slowly.

At the end of your day, sit down with your list of activities and consider one of your WIP’s magic systems, then write down how a character would go about that in your world, what level of magic or mundane would they use for it.

For a quick example, let’s go with what is probably the first thing on people’s lists: waking up. My guess is you do this by an alarm clock or a phone or a combination of both. How do people in your work in progress wake up? Is it through mundane means, magical means, or magically mundane means?  I’ll use an example from one of my WIPs. Pulling from the victorian tradition of knocker-ups and combining it with some magic I’ve got some magically mundane ways of waking up. Rather than having people use sticks or batons to use slam onto doors to wake people up, used the fact that fire magic is prevalent in the area. The magicked up knocker-ups use itty bitty fireworks at windows to wake people up. Not the greatest job in the world, but not bad for a young mage in training.

You might be surprised at the solutions you come up with for everyday problems. How does your world deal with public transportation? Who makes bread? How is grain ground? What is your world’s sewage system? Is there a way to recycle? Where do clothes come from? Who mends them? Constantly ask yourself, could a character do this with magic? Then ask yourselves would a character do this with magic?  Are there systems in place for that? Is magic or mundane the answer?

I’m not saying that you need to include every single one of these in a story, unless you want to create a 10,000 page monstrosity of worldbuilding. However! Worldbuilding is in the details as much as it is in your hand drawn maps and your nation’s power structures. Worldbuilding is in the everyday. So if you want to show how magic permeates every aspect of life, than give us some examples. Show us the background of a rich, fully thought out world.

 

Worldbuilding: Healthcare

If your character broke their leg how would they mend it? If they have a cough who would they see to heal it? If they had depression who could they talk to? Would they staunch their own wounds and hope for the best?

Healing can be confined to the few.

Healing can be given to all.

Your world, your rules.

Medicine can be easily accessible or it can be only for the the wealthy. There could be an underground for doctors and nurses. Healing could be taken from the people as a punishment. Medicine could keep people compliant– given out only as a reward. How does your government heal their people? Or does the government ignore the needs of its people?

Who has the power?

Sickness could shatter a person’s wealth as much as their health– keeping those without money from seeking out what they need. A cure could be too expensive for the common people. What do people sell to afford their life? What is the cost of just one band aid?

If you are writing a book with magic, is healing in the hands of magic-users or in the hands of scientists, or somewhere in between? Witches could brew up a potion to alleviate cramps. Wizards could charm a prosthetic to grow with a child. Mages could ward against malaria. Sorcerers could spell against seasonal affective disorder. Healers could treat gender dysphoria, sculpting bodies by magic.

Is the child mortality rate high? Is a pregnancy ripe with fear for the mother and the child? Is birth control accessible to all who need it? Is it available to people who are biologically female or male?  Hidden in back alleys, mages script a morning after spell because it’s disallowed by the crown. Witches create coven of midwives. Wizards draw protective runes across bellies.

Is mental health seen as a stigma? Do empaths work as counselors guiding their patients? Or are people left to suffer in silence, their minds betraying them, while pretending nothing is wrong?

Consider what sort of world you want to build.

What sort of world do you want your story to unfold in?

 

Worldbuilding: Birth, Death, and Cake

Imagine the scene: You, face alight with a fiery glow. Light flickers across your face, eyes closed in concentration as you focus your will. Onlookers chant in cadence. A rhythmic beat of friends and family surrounds you. Sibilant syllables flow around you hissing out your name. You take in a breath– a single breath. The chant grows. You release your will and your breath together. Smoke curls up in soft coils in front of you. Finally, finally the chant fades away. Taken up into the void by swirling smoke. You dive forward, glistening knife held in your hand, to begin the yearly sacrifice. You devour what is before you. Your year begins anew.

Or, you know, a traditional American birthday.

Cheers.

Unless you are a celestial being spawned from of primordial ooze, you have a birthday. I suppose even if you are a celestial being spawned from primordial ooze, you have a spawned from ooze day. You have a reason to celebrate coming into this world.

I recently read Krystina Castella’s A World of Cake: 150 Recipes for Sweet Traditions From Cultures Near and Far. In addition to some delightful recipes, the book is peppered with anecdotes of cake and culture across the globe. It seems inevitable, almost, to devote some time to the inexorable link between cake and birthdays, birthdays and cake. I will just say: CAKE. Personally, I almost always have a chocolate cherry cake for my birthday. Although this year, I might shake it up a bit because this book is wonderful and try something new.  (Update: I made tiramisu.) There are all sort of connections between food and life– food as a wellspring of life crops up in the inevitable traditions linking food and celebrations together. Bounty. Harvest. Plenty. Life. All these words, ideas, reasons to celebrate, fold together into life events. The tradition of marking a birthday crosses borders across the world.

The bookend to life, I suppose then, would be death. Food continues into death as well. Let us return to cake. When all else fails, always return to cake. We have celebrations with birthday cakes, name day cakes, quinceanera cakes, but cakes and food are not contained only to birth and life, but to death as well. A Thai tradition is to create a cookbook to share the deceased favorite meals and recipes with family and loved ones after their passing. We cannot forget the pan de muerto, sweet anise and orange flavored breads, made in the time leading up to Dia de los Muertos. The bread of the dead is eaten by loved ones and shared with the dead.

There are few things we can say cross all borders.  Food is one of those few things that connect us all. There is a unity to the people standing around a cake waiting for someone to make that first slice. There is a unity in handing out a piece of a whole to everyone in a family, to everyone in a community. There is a unity in food.

Let’s Talk Names

Imagine, if you will, a person. This person has hope and dreams. This person has a past and a future. This person has a style and a voice. This person is one in several billion.

This person is… a person.

This person is your character and they need a name.

Imagine, if you will, a person. This person has hope and dreams. This person has a past and a future. This person has a style and a voice. This person is one in several billion.

This person is… a person.

This person is your character and they need a name.

If you could listen in on my writing process you would know that some video game boss music is playing right now and it is apt. Nothing puts me in more of an exhausted haze then trying to name the characters I will spend years with. This post may have something to do with a character’s fourth name change in five years. Nothing sounds right! I gave naming power over to one of my sisters and just told her to pick something because I’ve hated every version of her name.  She’s pleased she named a queen. I’m pleased I don’t have to think about it any more. It’s a win-win.

However, we can’t always outsource our naming responsibilities.

Let’s talk about reality for a moment. We don’t choose our name. At least not in the beginning. You get a little older and you can do whatever you want, but there at the beginning the naming falls into your caregiver’s hands. For something that is so pivotal in our lives, it isn’t our choice, not really.

With naming comes histories, expectations, and futures all rolled into one.  It’s a lot packed into just a few syllables. Consider your name. What does it say about you? Perhaps even more interestingly, what doesn’t it say about you?

I’m going to take a moment to deconstruct the name I’m most familiar with– mine. You’ll see most of it up in the website bar. Here it is in all it’s glory: Nicole Faith Getson.

I’ll start with the last name. Getson. There aren’t that many of us around. The story is that Goetz needed to be softened. Changed. Melted into the melting pot. The family adopted a different, Americanized version of the name. Goetz turned into Getson.

On to the middle name. When the first act of your life is almost dying, you end up with the name Faith. There are a whole category of these sorts of names. Names that mean things: Faith, Chastity, Honor, Charity, Grace, Hope, Justice, Patience, etc.. Virtue names echoing a puritan past. These names are a far cry from some names used in the past. If we were actually were Puritans in 1600s my name would have ended up being Safe-On-HighHere is another fun fact about my family: we aren’t particularly religious. When people hear my middle name, I get strange looks. Yes, indeed, I’m a walking misnomer! (Hi Mom! *waves* I can already feel your phone call. Talk to you soon. While I’m in the parentheses here, I’ll go ahead and paraphrase this phone call from my mother for you: “You can have faith in many things other than a higher power, including yourself.” Thanks Mom!)

Let’s move on to the first name– Nicole– the name most people everyday know me by. The name that is shouted to get my attention. Something I’ve learned over the years is that people assume my nickname is Nikki. It’s not. It’s Cole. If you need my name to be shortened, please refer to me as the combustible rock, thanks. Yes, yes, I know that is spelled coal.

I have the added bonus of a masculine nickname as a woman. My name takes people aback. I hear refrains of: “Are you sure it’s not Nikki?” The many years living my life assures me that no, that is not what my name is. I’ve also been told on multiple occasions that I am not a Nicole.  Every once in awhile a person will then rattle off a list of names that seem more like me. Emily usually ranks high on these lists and I am not sure why.

Please do not do this to people.

I REPEAT: DO NOT DO THIS TO PEOPLE.

A baby naming book is within arm’s reach of my desk. It hangs out on a side table beside my desk. It’s always there, hovering just out of my sight line, lurking, waiting for the next character for me to name. Waiting for me. Staring at me. Coming for me. This is why sometimes instead of trying to come up with names I send an email out to my Naming of Random Things Think Tank (PATENT PENDING) and they get to come up with a side character’s name, because I just cannot.

*boss music crescendos*

Names are a touchstone to a character. It’s often one of the first things we think of when considering a character it helps encompass all that makes them… them.

A character of mine changes his name half a dozen time over the course of one of my books. Being a poster child for identity crises, he uses these names to reinvent himself over and over and over. Each name settles him into a different culture and life. He switches his family name from first to last and back again. He changes how the vowels are pronounced. He changes where the emphasis is, all as he figures out who he is and where he fits into the world.

There is also a lot to unpack in a name. People don’t appear one day at the beginning of their most interesting plot points. They were born and given a name, maybe they changed their name, maybe they have a nickname, maybe they gave up their family name, maybe and maybe and maybe… there are so many options here that give a glimpse into both a character’s backstory and the world.

My Publishing Dragons

If it doesn’t happen now, it never will.

If you haven’t been on the writerly twitter cycle recently Alyssa Wong talked a bit about youth success stories in writing. Then some other writers talked about it, so now I’m going to have some 20s something unpublished writer feelings about it…

I was eleven years old when Eragon was republished in a pivotal moment in my development as a young writer. Here was this kid not much older than me that had a book series already published. I read it in astonishment. Then I picked it apart finding the barely veiled references to The Belgariad, Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance, and Star Wars. I read it disgruntled and annoyed. After the movie came out, every time I went into another bookstore covered in Eragon merchandise, my soul died a little. I scribbled what would be baby’s first book– a laughably terrible story I’ve written about before.

I would like to say that I ran Eragon out of my mind, but for years it was there, a tiny blue dragon nibbling away at my conscious. I wrote and wrote and wrote chased by a sapphire dragon. I gave friends bits and pieces of stories to read. Stories about princesses transforming into fairies. Stories about death and family. Stories about women wizards and warriors. However, no matter what I wrote, a winged shadow ran after me.

Someone gave me a copy of Eldest when it came out, I flipped through it, reading past the Elven world and into what I thought it said about the world of publishing. Now the dragon hounding me flared red. Scarlet. Jaws open ready to snap me up if I dropped from my breakneck sprint. I kept hearing about the writing success stories of young people. 

Looking back now, I had an unhealthy obsession with it publishing young. Take a breath.

Brisingr arrived as Eragon fever subsided, the movie had come and gone. Bookstores, no longer swathed in blue and red, returned to their old ways. It was a moment of relief to watch it subside. For a moment I slowed down. I didn’t have to be an overnight success as a teenager. Even still, whispers still echoed around me. Publish at 13. 14. 15. Publish now. Publish. Publish. Publish.

If it doesn’t happen now, it never will.

Dragon’s fire curled around my feet.

Dragon’s fire twined around my legs.

Fiery branches ensnaring me.

Creeping up, up, up.

If it doesn’t happen now, it never will.

In high school, I garnered up enough courage to give friends a whole finished manuscript– 300 pages of elemental magic, loneliness, and shadows. I still get inquiries about the main character. What happened to Ana? Last thing they read she blew up atop a tower– the end of the book a blaze of magic and anger. I don’t know, I wanted to say, but instead I give them a mischievous smile, Maybe one day you’ll find out. *

I discovered Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown around this time. I found it in a bookstore that only existed in my hometown for about a month before disappearing. As I never remember seeing anyone else in the bookstore, I imagine it appeared in my time of need, spat out the books I needed, and disappeared into the wind– A fairy godmother made of dust and paperbacks. Aerin became my unwitting guide during my teenage years. I read it when I needed solace, lady knights, and above all dragon slaying.

Meanwhile, Inheritance came out the year I graduated high school. I never bothered reading it. For a moment the dragons pursuing me dropped below the horizon unseen.

Years passed as they do. With whispers still swirling: If it doesn’t happen now, it never will. Publish. Publish. Publish.

So…One of my first acts after graduating from college? Querying a fantasy novel .

I was a recent unemployed grad with a degree I ended up not wanting to go into and a book I thought was not atrocious. What else is a girl supposed to do? I didn’t know what else to do. (I mean I still don’t know what I’m doing, but now at least I’m employed.)

Within hours of sending out my first query, I received a partial manuscript request. I am not exaggerating about this here. It might even have been less than an hour. I tell people this bit of my life and they look at me in shock. Trust me, I was too. I expected silence. Instead of automatically replying, I went to the grocery store and ate too many cheese samples. I returned to my email and became even more amazed to see I was not hallucinating. It was still in my inbox.  

I didn’t get that agent and I don’t have an agent. Nothing went past that initial partial request save a polite no thanks little buddy, good luck. Getting what amounted to a form rejection on a manuscript hurt, but I deserved it. This isn’t my self-hatred and self-deprecation speaking. I really did.

I put that manuscript in a metaphorical dusty drawer for a while. Go think about what you have done, I told it. A few years later and I am typing this blog post up, so thankful for that rejection (and the few others that didn’t ask for any bit of my manuscript). It shouldn’t have gone anywhere. Impatience forced my hand. That dragon had not dropped below the horizon, it was right on my tail, only invisible. Stealth +100. My pursuer still whispered in arcane tones: If it doesn’t happen now, it never will. 

In that time when my manuscript was in detention? I wrote and wrote and wrote. Don’t get me wrong I sometimes wondered if I should ignore my gut and query again. But, in those years, with that manuscript hiding from me, no, I will be honest… me hiding from it, I found a voice that was mine. My writing changed. Evolved. Perhaps even improved.

I’ve pulled out that manuscript again, because I think there is something there. Something in the bones of the story even if the writing needs work. Working through it, chapter by chapter, pulling out the pieces that work and the pieces of nonsense, I’m making something better. I am making something that I could not have made years ago.

Take that, dragons.

* It’s been a decade in the making, but I know what happens to Ana. So I repeat: Maybe one day you’ll find out.

Myth & Language

If you are writing a brand new fantasy world, should you ever use the world herculean?

Should you use the word chronology?

How about chaos?

To reference this very blog, what about fury?

Oh, or nemesis?

Is anyone an adonis?

Should voices echo without the tale of Echo and Narcissus?

Can a siren wail a warning, if a siren has never lured someone into the sea?

A bard can’t have a muse in a world without the muses.

My world doesn’t have the god of war.  However, certainly some things could be described as martial.

A trip can’t be an odyssey if Odysseus has never traveled the long, long way.

Could something be an ambrosia, if the gods never ate it?

Can someone truly harp on a subject, if harpies never screeched?

I am not sure someone can have a mentor if Telemachus never needed a teacher.

Should anyone get lost in a labyrinth, if there is no Minotaur?

Can you point out someone’s Achilles’ heel if he was never held in the river?

Let’s just mention asking what someone’s fate is here for a moment.

Language is a tricky thing. Where do you draw the line between fully using the language, but also realizing that some words don’t make any sense in the world you’ve created?

We, for the most part, write our books in our first or a familiar language. For me that is English– a language influenced by languages and cultures across the globe. We borrow from the French and the Greek, from the Spanish and the Indian, from the Arabic and the German. English is a ravenous language, hungering for more words to throw down its gullet. Although we might now want to stop and research the etymology of every word we place on the page (we would write our books even slower), we should be aware of where words come from.

Language has history.

Language builds worlds.

There isn’t a simple answer to word usage in novels. However, it’s something to be aware of when you are writing fantasy.

What do you do when you are writing a world in which Hercules never performed his labors, the god of time was never spoken of, or the tales of the Furies never passed from generation to generation?

Language affects myth.

Myth affects language.

I avoid using words and phrases where the legend is still present. I know that sounds a bit wacky- let the legend speak to you.  Is it present?  However, what I mean by that is that words like herculean and muses and Achilles’ heel all are still based in the listener and user’s knowledge of the myth and metaphor. Words like echo or chaos or fury, while still mythological in etymology, are not linked to the knowledge of the myth as others. I know that is shades of meaning, and layers of understanding, and some people might heartily disagree with me.

Another way I could say this is: I will use words where the definition has surpassed the myth, rather than the myth surpassing the definition.

Language choices really can put a writer between a rock and a hard place. Or wait, is that between the devil and the deep blue sea. Or is that a Scylla and Charybdis?

Those are just some musings for the day.

 

Worldbuilding: Discordanant Elements

Let’s talk about moogles. Kupo.

Let’s talk about moogles. Kupo.

… Spoiler Alert: Final Fantasy.

I recently finished Final Fantasy XV, instead of raging about my myriad of problems, concerns, general angst, and annoyed love with it I’m going to talk about moogles. No, I have to say something about XV. I’ll inevitably have a cat named Prompto. What a dork. I promise this has something to do with worldbuilding. I’ll get there.

On that note, back to moogles. I’m not going to give you the full History of the Moogle. If I ever went back to school that is the name of my dissertation. The History of the Moogle: Foundations of Fluffiness and Folklore. An entire chapter would be dedicated to the “-mog-” naming system. Note: Worldbuilding discussion about names… coming to a computer screen near you soon(ish). Instead, here are some brief highlights from the games:

First playable character: Final Fantasy VI. This cast is huge and includes a Yeti. It would make sense this is when we first get to play a moogle ourselves. There is an entire moogle army/invasion section.

Final Fantasy VII: Cait Sith. Ummm… Cait Sith. I don’t know what to add. Who is looking forward to that in the remake. Raise your hands! Most importantly, there are no living moogles here!

They are practically nonexistent in Final Fantasy VIII, only appearing as a pseudo Guardian Force available through the Pocket Station and a few dialogue mentions across the game.

Mog as a summon in Final Fantasy IX. Eiko’s little buddy turns out is not so little and is a Eidolon disguised as an orange pom pomed moogle named Mog. Additionally, moogles function as your save point and you in turn run their mail around for them. I love you so much, IX.

In Final Fantasy X we see them pass into legend again. Rather than a living being, they are an equippable doll for Lulu to use as a casting weapon. They reappear in X-2 as Yuna’s mascot dress sphere.

XII brings us full circle to see them once again as a race incorporated into the world, not as a legendary creature.

They return to creatures of legend in XIII. An exception might be made for XIII-2’s moogle who is also a weapon and can speak. Much like the rest of XIII-2, that was unclear and a little bizarro.

That was not as brief as I planned.

In the list of things Final Fantasy fans expect in their games, moogles rate up there along with chocobos, summoning, and crystals. Chocobos are an easy thing to incorporate, they often operate as the Final Fantasy equivalent of a horse. Side note: In XV there is a line of background dialogue of “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” Are there horses in this world? I don’t think we ever see horses. Have horses fallen into legend as chocobos took over their role? Is this a hint that the world is much larger than we see, are there horses on the other side of it? Or, would it simply be more appropriate to say “I’m so hungry I could eat a chocobo.”  It is a translation/idiom error? Why does this line exist?

Anyway, chocobos are not a problem to work into a game of varying levels of technology and magic. Moogles, however, have a particular aesthetic. How do you work in a fluffy white creature with a pom pom delicately attached to their head and sharp bat wings protruding from their back into a game like XV?

Moogles are painted in two different ways: real and legendary. Looking across the games, those with the most advanced tech and greatest focus on humans have passed their moogles on into legend. Mainly: VII, VIII, XIII, and XV. I cannot imagine what hyperrealistic moogles would have looked like in XV. Perhaps they could have gone with the demon route and made them into enemies that only came out at night? That could have been frightening.

In games that include moogles as living beings such as IX, there is less of a focus on humans as the dominate race and realism. In XII, where technology is often seen in browns and bronzes and given a more naturalistic look, moogles are real. While humans seem to be the majority, the world also is home to viera, bangaa, seeq, and others.  Keeping moogles as living creatures with their own culture makes sense here, in worlds where magic and technology operate together.

The game that plays with this divide is IV. While IV has an almost steampunk aesthetic, the technology is in general not comparable to what you see in VII, VIII, XIII, or XV.  However, technology plays a major role in the game, and humans are dominate. This is a case where magic is a legend, while moogles are not.

How do you make your worlds make sense?  How do all of your little bits and pieces come together to make something that makes sense as a whole? When we are working on our own stories, we usually don’t have 30 years worth of narrative history and expectations to work with.  However, we can learn from the multiplicity of ways similar elements are morphed and altered to create a world.

Ask yourself: Would a moogle from IX, book in hand muttering about kupo nuts, traipsing through the background of a gritty, electric Midgar break a bit of carefully built world?

What Happens When You Read

When you read you end up drinking a mixture of black tea, coffee, and condensed milk.

Allow me to explain.

When you read you end up drinking a mixture of black tea, coffee, and condensed milk.

Allow me to explain.

It all started with my library’s summer reading challenge. Part of the challenge this year was reading books across genres. A sample of the genre lists: Travel Memoirs; Mystery & Thriller; Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Paranormal; and Appalachian Fiction. Each list had about 10 books to choose from. Unsurprisingly, I had read the majority from the SFF list. Out of the Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Paranormal list I had not yet read: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo.

Now, I normally don’t do book reviews because they go something like this:

FIVE STARS THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ. PERIOD. NOTHING WILL COMPARE.

Or…

BORED.

Or…

I AM FILLED WITH NARRATIVE FURY. STARS WILL NOT ENCOMPASS MY RAGE.

The Ghost Bride falls solidly into the first category. Lovely prose. Engaging characters. Intricate storytelling. Well-paced plot. That is the extent of any real review here. The end. What I am saying is: Go read this book right now. Stop reading my words and go read hers.

So, of course I wanted to know if Yangsze Choo had written anything else. Off to the internet we go!

If curiosity leads, it never takes you on a straight path. You twist and turn and wander your way through words and links and ideas you never really had any plans on encountering. You find new things pressed between old things. Unknown pressed between known. Things you never knew you wanted to know.

In my wanderings I found her blog. Which lead me to this paragraph“In Malaysia, a favourite breakfast item is a soft-boiled egg served in a bowl with soy sauce and white pepper. Thick Hainanese toast, grilled over charcoal and lavishly smeared with butter and kaya, a caramelized custard spread, is the traditional coffee shop accompaniment together with piping hot coffee (or more scandalously, the subversive drink called chum, which is coffee and tea mixed together with condensed milk).”

Can we look at that last bit a bit closer: COFFEE AND TEA MIXED TOGETHER WITH CONDENSED MILK.

First thought: WHAT IS THIS CONCOCTION AND WHY HASN’T IT BEEN IN MY LIFE?

Second thought: I need a recipe.

Once again with help from my old friend Google, I found this recipe over at Saveur that seemed impossibly easy. Which lead to the third thought: I need to go to the grocery store.

*cackles over cans of sweetened condensed milk*

Fourth thought: I now have everything I need.

A classic drink for us during the holidays is swiping the used sweetened condensed milk cans after cookie baking and pouring in the last of the coffee. The coffee is usually the last dregs in the french press, so it’s the dark black sludge of caffeine infused darkness. We swirl it around until it lightens several shades and takes us into the nethersphere with its sugariness. It keeps us awake until the wee hours of the night so we can finish the unreasonable number of cookies we think a family of seven needs.

It felt like some kitchen witchery as warm, familiar smells of coffee and black tea swirled around the apartment. I poured cups of the milky concoction into small cups and served it with something I suppose you could call quiche. Quiche without the crust? Crustless quiche? Oven omelet? Egg loaf?

Overall opinion: FIVE STARS THIS IS BEST DRINK I HAVE EVER HAD. PERIOD. NOTHING WILL COMPARE.

I told you. I review in extremes.

It might be a touch dangerous that I now have a recipe for a liquid sugar and caffeine bomb which packs the punch of both tea and coffee. Somehow, you can taste both the tea and the coffee. I am not sure how, but by the magic of this drink they merge together into something new and yet also familiar. Additionally, after it kicked in, my brain was on fire. Delicious, delicious fire. While at work that afternoon I am pretty sure I was vibrating in my chair, twirling pencils around my fingers, and just generally bouncing around. (As much as a practically clinically stoic person is wont to do.) To quote Sister Number One, “If I had this while writing my dissertation, I would have finished six months earlier.”

I now know what to fuel myself with when all sleep is lost.

Wherein I Ramble About The Shannara Chronicles

I come at this with a lot of love. I grew up on 70s and 80s fantasy. Our bookshelves weighed heavy with Jordan and Feist and Eddings and, of course more apropos to today’s post, Brooks. I went from picture books to epic fantasy in not very many steps. From the Pokey Little Puppy to the Flaming Sword of Justice and Fate. As you do.  So when it was announced they were making a Shannara series I was filled with equal parts hope and apprehension. (And maybe a tiny part of me wants to fill the hole in my heart that formed after Merlin stopped airing.)

Let’s get this out of the way early on. I am glad that the pronunciation of Shannara is not like how I have been pronouncing it in my head for years. There is Book!Shannara that lives in my head untouched by TV!Shannara. TV!Shannara can do a retelling and a reimagining without touching the characters that live in my head.  Really it’s for the best. That doesn’t mean I am not going to compare them. Not in the least.

I took twenty two pages of notes while watching this show. I will admit they are small pages. But still… twenty two pages.  Here they are in all their glory. Note: I watched this with Sister Number Three, so there are  some interjections by her.


Episode 1

WAIT, IS THAT ANDER?

Ander is a baby!

Wait, there was no trial… Amberle was just… chosen. And gender wasn’t this big of a deal, right?

I am into this music.

Why was that credit scene red, white, and black? Why is that a thing right now? The elfstones are blue. I guess the tree is red?

Hi Gimli, nice tree.

Why is Ander the most dashing person in the room? Yes, we see his eyes are blue. You can stop flashing light on them.

ANDER IS STOIC. WHAT IS HAPPENING?

Ahhh yesss, Mount Doom.

ALLANON.

We already know far too much about Allanon.

Why does he have Fandral’s sword?

*Enter the Farm Boy*

Always kill the parents. Just murder a bunch of people and call it good narrative.

THAT IS A BETTER ALLANON ENTRANCE.

LEAVE YOUR HOOD UP!

Eretria!

Well, clearly don’t accept drinks from sexy women.

Wil, look up the definition of “honey trap.”

Why is evil always ugly?  It’s not that easy to determine.

Episode 2

Wil, no.

You did not actually say “Your destiny awaits.”

I need Colin Morgan to give lessons to anyone who has to act magical abilities.

Note: I’ve started leveling characters up in Hyrule Warriors while getting Three’s description of this scene: “HE IS LITERALLY CRUSHING HIS FACE. FACE SMOSH.”

You are not witches.

I MISS MERLIN.

Real line: “The dagda–what?”

This is now the plot to Thor. Which is a classic, I suppose. Brother vs Brother.

I do not remember this much brother-angst.

Woman can leave home without being pregnant.

Well, aren’t all problems related to women’s love life choices?

SHEA WAS NOT A DRUNKARD. I can get over you making him Wil’s dad. Weird timeline wise, but ok. BUT NOT MAKING HIM A DRUNKARD. NO.

I am offended for Shea.

Allanon, you’ve met Arrow, you know how to put YOUR HOOD UP.

WHY IS SHE NAKED?

Allanon, you’ve talked more in five minutes than in two books.

Of course she was made up for the show, she calls Allanon out.

Note: We’ve referred to any character who randomly shows up, dispenses relevant plot knowledge, and disappears into the ether as having an “Allanon Complex” for years.

And now… she’s dead. Obviously.

Episode 3

I still miss Merlin.

How many shirtless scenes are we going to see?

Are the women really cowering at Wil’s feet right now? They are both fighters. No.

The music is once again the best part of this.

I am bored.

Still bored.

Bored.

Episode 4

I’ve worn Wil’s outfit in real life.

I’m EVIL= Dressed in black.

This dialogue is cringy.

Three: “We can’t compare things to Merlin and Sanctuary, it’s not fair. But Christopher Heyerdahl would make an excellent cloaked, hooded, and very tall Allanon.”

This is a fine Allanon for this show. However, I don’t get the creepy factor of Book!Allanon.

And we are back to the plot of Thor.

There is no recognition of time passing. I don’t understand their great, meaningful relationship. Especially when it feels like they are always arguing and have barely been together.

You should never wear an outfit that Scorpius would be proud of.  However, Tilton is cool. Even if this outfit is… ridiculous.  She will also probably end up dead.

Yes, you definitely killed this evil monster by snapping it’s neck.

Chop of it’s head at the very least, this is a magical being.

NO GENRE SAVVY.

Yep, you didn’t cut of it’s head. This is what you get. Murdered.

Episode 5

Flashback. I only care if it is about Shea.

It’s not about Shea.

Already shirtless. Ahem, I mean: Plot.

I am so tired of ugly bad guys.

This would be more interesting if we didn’t assume he was about to die.

I am into this battle theme. I LIKE THIS MUSIC.

Yep, dead.

They have significantly Shakespeared up the brothers’ relationship.

“Boy!” said with disdain– the mark of The Farm Boy.

Villains: Ugly men + gorgeous scantily clad women.

THIS IS NOT BOOK!CRISPIN.

Was anyone this racist in the books? I do not remember this.

Oh right, I haven’t actually talked about Bandon yet.

He is so going evil.

Starting to practice your seer powers on an ancient druid seems like a bad idea.

That tourniquet was on the wrong side.

Why is there an attempted rape? Why does it always go there?

I wish I would have been counting gratuitous bathing scenes.

Why does it look like a pig?

Writers room scene:

Writer 1: Hey guys, how do we make this dude not look like the balrog?

Writer 2: Dual axes…

Writer 3: …and slow mo.

Writes chorus: Nailed it.

It looks like the lego Balrog. I can’t help giggling at it and I am not sure why.

“Prince,” said with disdain.

Confirmed: Plot of Thor. Shapeshifter on the throne.

Episode 6

I now have ice cream.

Your sword is very far away.

A playground? No.

I am in physical pain, but I have mint ice cream.

Amberle, you will actually be happier as a tree. I can almost guarantee you.

FROLICKING.

Seriously, just turn into a tree already.

Has any episode not had a shirtless scene in the first five minutes?

I just snorted at the phrase “There’s a storm coming.”

SWORD TWIRL.

Three: “Mal might have been Captain Tightpants, but Ander is Prince Tightpants.”

AND THEY CALL IT A MINE. A MINE.

HOW IS THERE ANOTHER BATHING SCENE?

Wil, you occasionally have moments of genre savvy, then you turn into a complete fool. Own it. Learn something from listening to Shea’s stories. OH WAIT, HE WAS A DRUNKARD.

Is he really being framed by one streak of light?

EVERYONE’S EARS ARE THE SAME SIZE. I LEGITIMATELY CANNOT TELL THE DIFFERENCE. THERE IS NOT ENOUGH OF A DIFFERENCE.

Speaking of ears, I do like that one of Arion’s is slightly crooked. It’s a nice touch.  Clearly, Mr. Dashing can’t have crooked ears, but it’s nice.

The changeling is even doing the Loki-lean on the throne.

Now… there is a creepy laboratory?

Creepy child. Check.

*creepy giggling*

Three: “Don’t put me down for mummification.”

How touching. Turn into a tree.

Now Ander is a drunk? No.

Why is it dead parents and/or alcohol. Always.

ORGAN MUSIC IS PLAYING. I DON’T KNOW IF THIS IS GLEE OR HORROR I AM FEELING.

Episode 7

Don’t worry, I am sure that palm injury will heal into a silvery circle. As they do.

No one was shirtless before the credits. Good job.

Soaking wet, yes. Shirtless, no.

Three: “That hairdo is right out of Red Sonja.”

Now Allanon is shirtless. We were doing so good.

WHY IS EVERYONE ALWAYS NAKED. I MEAN WHY IS THERE SO MUCH PLOT.

Me out loud: I’ve worn that outfit. Why do I dress like a post apocalyptic elven man?

Three: Meaningfully raises her eyebrows.

Me: Nevermind, don’t answer that.

They fall into a high school. I can’t do this. The banner actually reads “We can all be Heroes.”

Either own the absurd or play it serious.

THEY ARE LOOKING AT A YEARBOOK.

WHAT IS HAPPENING.

I care more about finding out about these composers than Allanon’s resurrection.

Also, I do not remember Allanon having this much trouble staying alive.

AMBERLE DID NOT JUST PICK UP BLUE DICE. NO.

THOSE HAD BETTER SERVE MORE OF A PURPOSE THAN A DRAMATIC SIGH.

ORPHANS BOUND TO A TRAGIC FATE.

Actually, nevermind. Now I want the elfstones to be dice. We are all saved by the power of tabletop gaming.

Did Eretria just shoot someone through the eye while rolling around on the ground? That seems improbable.

Three: “I think Allanon just did his overdrive.”

Poor Arion. NOBLE DEATH.

MEANINGFUL DICE CONVERSATION.

KING ANDER. Still tho, you are like 12. It is a good thing the camera just keeps lighting your eyes up blue. We wouldn’t want to forget who the dashing one is.

Three: “Now he is King Tightpants.”

Episode 8

I now have tea instead of ice cream.  

Note: Earl gray, although I didn’t know much I was foreshadowing then.

THIS IS A TOWN FULL OF NICE HATS.

Shut it, Allanon, there is always a choice.

I’m bored again.

A creepy cultist?

Where are you getting gunpowder?

Also, this is totally about human sacrifice.

Why does the creepy cult leader want to be Johnny Depp?

NO.

THEY SHOWED A CLIP OF STAR TREK? AND NOW ARE HAVING A RAVE?

WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?

I AM SPEECHLESS.

Episode 9

Bored.

They really have trolls under the bridge?

Embrace the weird.

Bandon is going evil.

Oh look, he attacked the king.

GO DARK BANDON. GO DARK. WE NEED A VILLAIN FOR NEXT SEASON.

A map on her skin? Does that happen in the books? I apparently have no memory.

I need to read Elfstones again.

CHESS ANALOGY. WE CAN’T HAVE PLOT WITHOUT IT.

Do you feel like a pawn? Maybe a pawn of prophecy?

Bandon, your eyes are getting squintier. If I learned anything from watching all the Merlin commentary, it means you are getting more possessed.

I think I’ve fought these witches in Zelda before.

This is bizarro.

I still don’t understand Kael’s plan?  Why is Ander such a bad king? Why is she going against him? I don’t understand. He is markedly less racist as far as I can tell.

TREE. TURN INTO A TREE.

WIL. YOU ARE A HEALER. THIS IS YOUR SKILL.

Episode 10

WHY ME? Because everyone asks that. Literally everyone.

Yep. Evil Bandon. Called it.

I am being sincere when I say this: Ander, thank you for allying with the “uglies.”

It really is terrible to be Arion.

Red magic doesn’t have to be evil? Why is it evil but also coded to the tree? Which I guess makes sense that it is holding back evil. But then blue is good. The color imagery going on in here is odd.

I repeat: Everyone who has to use magic has to go talk to Colin Morgan.

YES. CHOP OF THE HEAD. YOU LEARNED SOMETHING.

Save the world or let everyone die.

That isn’t a choice Allanon. That is being backed up into a corner. You really need to brush up on your definition of choice.

Three: “I want her to turn into something that looks like the Deku Sprout.”

YES. AMBERLE. TREE TIME.

King Ander: A study in blue eyes and tight clothing.

Bandon: Called it. Black eyes = evil. THAT OUTFIT IS FAB AND THE SWORD. FAB VILLAINY. JUST FABULOUS.

Tilton: Also called it.

Allanon… just keep saying words, wise druid words.

Eretria has to be rescued. Because of course.


 

As I finished watching the first season I asked myself one question: Will I watch season two?  Yes. Yes I will. 100% will.

However first, I am going to get out my battered copy of Elfstones and start reading.

Shannara