Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Brandon Sanderson

An intriguing mystery of a paradise fallen.

I'll cover first the things I liked.

I liked the way this story isn't your typical, defeat-the-villain, twelve-volume, epic oddsey. There are no dragons or vampires (there's a bit too much of that these days). The story satisfies me quite a bit on that level--in fact, I remember reading reviews on, and the most common compliment about this story is its originality.

I liked the main character, Reoden. I liked the way he was resourceful. I liked the way he was clever. I liked the way he kept a positive outlook in spite of being damned for eternity. Not a whiner, he took it all in stride and made the most of his situation. I liked him for his intelligence, and I liked the way he developed during the story. Nicely done.

I like the setup for this story. Sanderson did a good job in the prologue, painting an idylic scene that would last for an eternity, then said, "eternity ended ten years ago." I love the opening line, "Prince Reoden awoke early that morning completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity." How can you put a book down with an opening like that??? Nicely done.

I thought the magic was nicely done. I like stuff that has runes or glyphs that symbolize things. Kind of hard to picture them being drawn in thin air, though.

I really, really like the mystery aspect to this tale. The Elantrians are fallen exalted mortals. What made them fall? Why is their city crumbling to ruins after only 10 years? Why is it covered in slime? Why does the magic no longer work? I love the way it is Reoden's quest to determine all these things, and he systematically works through his problems one by one. Nice.

I appreciate the amount of time the author spent on the back-story for all the various races and cultures and political manoverings, etc. However at times I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose. I would have gotten into it had it been introduced more gradually. Since I'm not a big fan of Earth history, why would I get into an imaginary history?

What could have been better?

The plot drags in places. The book is filled with scenes that could have been cut, making the whole story tighter and much more intense.

I didn't like how the POV rotated between the three main characters from one chapter to the next. I found myself scanning four or five pages at a time to get through less relevant scenes. There are much better techniques for keeping up the story lines when you have multiple main characters.

It also bothered me that the fix for AonDor was so easy. Why handn't any of the original Elantrians seen the solution and simply fixed it?

Okay. Now for the score.

Did I finish reading the book? 1/2 star. I scanned too much of the text to give it a full star. If you're going to keep my attention for 638 pages, you need to keep things moving along.

Am I interested in reading a sequel, assuming there was one? No. Raoden was the only character that held my interest throughout the story. Hrathen had his glory moments, but he isn't memorable and that's crucial for a villain. Serene was interesting sometimes but by the end of the story I'd had my fill of her.

Was the writing good? Yes. I can't fault Sanderson for that. He did a good job. I never girtted my teeth or felt like his prose lacked skill in any way. I would expect nothing less, since he teaches creative writing at BYU.

Was the story idea interesting? Yes. I loved the mystery of a fallen paradise, and one man's quest to restore its glory. Fresh and original.

Was the ending satisfying? Yes, more or less, although it could have come much, much sooner.

Final verdict: 3.5. I can give this book my solid recommendation. Very original, yet still faithful to the genere. If you've read this book and liked it, feel free to post your comments!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Veil of Lies: A Medieval Nior

Five stars. I measure a book by five simple criteria. A star is awarded for each question, and the total is my overall rating.

Did I finish reading it? You might think this is a trivial question, but I am ruthless with my time. I won't stick with a book if the writing is sub-par, or if the main character annoys me, or if the story is going nowhere.

Am I interested in reading a sequel, assuming there was one? I chose this question carefully, because it says quite a bit about how interested I was in the story, and how much I liked the characters. I've read quite a few books all the way through and at the end thought, "That's nice. And now, on to other things..."

Was the writing good? I am a stickler for the craft. We've all read novels where we gritted our teeth through all the bad cliches, violations of POV, abuses of passive voice, telling and not showing--you get the idea.

Was the story idea interesting? This measures a lot of things: originality, milieu, the beginning hook, development of the story, etc.

Was the ending satisfying? I think this one goes without explaining.

Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson does not fail to impress. Think of a 50's era detective noir set in England during the reign of Richard II (Late 1300s). Add to that a holy relic which makes anyone in its presence unable to tell a lie, and you have an awesome story. Well steeped in the time period, the story is filled with vivid portrayals of common life in the middle ages Westerson took great pains to ensure historical accuracy. People who like reading stories from this time period won’t be disappointed.

I really liked Crispin Guest, the main character. A former knight who was stripped of his rank after being implicated in a plot against Richard II, he now makes his living as a private detective, or “tracker” as he calls himself. He finds stuff. Or he finds out stuff. Crispin Guest follows the anti-hero archetype rather well, and Westerson pulls it off nicely. Forced to live on the seedy side of town, Guest doesn’t always play by the rules. Law and brutality went hand in hand during this time. I especially like his servant, who is a street urchin that he rescued from being hung, who can pick locks and swipe things and spy for him—and he cleans up the room where he and Guest stay when the mood strikes him.

My rating: five stars.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fiction that Endures

I find the study of fiction fascinating. Why do we tell stories? This began a quest that has been both rewarding and enlightening.

On the surface one might say that people read stories because they want escape. They want to be entertained. That alone didn't satisfy me, because for me it wouldn't justify my wanting to become a writer. Why, then, does the world need another story about cat-eared aliens or tiny elves? I was looking for a contribution that would be more lasting.

I stumbled on an essay that was written in 1918. I found it very enlightening. You can find the entire article here.

Fiction is a means of telling truth. It is the human experience, distilled, and placed in a setting where those experiences can be lived vicariously. Have you ever read a story, and had an overwhelming feeling that the author was telling a true story, only to find out later that the whole thing was made up? For a perfect example, how many people have listened to (or read) the lyrics of "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins? (here is a Wikipedia link) I bring this up as an example because it is short, and it illustrates my point entirely. People ask Phil Collins all the time to tell them what was the story behind this tale? He says there is none. He made it up in a moment of creative passion.

If you hear a story and are compelled to wonder if it was true, and the answer matters to you somehow, then (in my opinion), fiction has done its job.

Along these lines, here are my favorite generes, and the way the human condition is explored. I don't think any one story encompasses all of these elements; merely, any given story that is well-written will explore at least one of these themes in depth.

Science Fiction:
  • A newsweek article I read stated, "Science fiction, by nature, comments on the time in which it's made, pustulating a future that is either better or worse depending on what we make of the present.

  • On the list of writer's guidelines for "Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine," we find this bit of advice: all fiction is written to examine or illuminate some aspect of huan science fiction the backdrop you work against is the size of the universe.

  • Man against the universe

  • Dealing with the moral and ethical delimas of scientific discovery

  • Man dealing with the speculative limitations of biology, physics, ocial science, mathematics, or logic

  • Considers one or more aspects of human nature when stretched (usually supernaturally) beyond the extreme.

  • Man against the supernatural

  • Man attempting to understand the nature of life, and the reason for existence.

  • Questions of morality, principle, and duty.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

counting crows

Counting Crows

This story was a study in writing from a female point of view. Women think very differently from men, and they see the world in a different way. Home and hearth are important, and they value relationships much more than men do. Anyway, I hope you’ll like this one.

     Devan was an odd fellow, that was true enough. “Uncanny” was the word some people used. Most said he liked to keep to himself, and that it was perfectly normal. Megan, of course, never gave much thought to hearsay, and when she came upon him while walking through the forest near their farm, she had to stop for a second look.
     She did not recognize him at first. The boy stood in a clearing with his back to her, staring heavenward and murmuring softly. His woolen tunic sagged over one shoulder, soiled and muddy; and he wore no belt. For shoes he had only a pair of sandals. Golden rays flitted through the branches, and patches of gleaming leaves danced and shifted with the spring breeze. Devan waved a short stick as he spoke, as if making a tally. A flock of crows played in the trees overhead, calling to each other with shrill voices.
     Megan followed his gaze, peering into the branches. “Whatever are you doing?”
     Devan jolted as if lightning struck, then wheeled to face her. His eyes darted about, but seeing only a girl he swallowed and appeared relieved. “I didn’t hear you. What do you want?”
     She stared for a moment. “You’re Ethne’s son--the wise woman.” Long and skinny like any boy of sixteen, wild reddish brown hair sprouted from Devan’s head, and light freckles spotted his face. Though they knew of each other, Devan and his mother lived quite a distance from Megan’s farm, and Megan’s family no longer followed the old traditions.
     Devan bobbed his head. “You’re Beoden’s daughter.” He let his gaze roam freely over her light blue dress and her long brown hair, stopping as their eyes met.
     Megan frowned. “You’re a right mess,” she said. “What have you been doing?”
     “You’re one to talk. There’s dirt all over your face.”
     “There is not.”
     “You’ve been crying.” Devan stared more intently, though his eyes were not unkind. “You’re not lost, are you?”
     “Hardly.” Megan pulled out a cloth and dabbed at her cheeks. In truth she had been crying. She often came to these woods so she could think and be alone, but that was none of his affair. “I was on my way back, and I heard you.”
     Devan made no response, but merely stared.
     “You were chanting something,” Megan pressed.
     “What of it?”
     “What were you saying?”
     “Just a rhyme. It’s nonsense, really.” He gave a smile--ever so quickly, Megan thought.
     She stared at the trees where he had been looking. A large crow cocked its head, then spread its wings and flew away. “You’re throwing things at the birds.”
     “I wasn’t.” Devan looked down at the stick in his hand, then tossed it into the bushes. “You wouldn’t understand such things.”
     Megan smirked. “Go on! You think that just because I’m a girl, I--”
     “I said nothing of the sort.” He stared at her then in a way Megan wasn’t sure she liked. She was ready to turn and leave when he spoke again.
One for joy
Two for pain,
Three for sun
Four for rain,
Five to grant a secret wish,
Six for first love’s tender kiss. . .

     Devan shrugged. “Anyway, that’s how it goes.”
     Megan wrinkled her brow.
     “Have you never heard that before?”
     Devan turned and gazed into the branches. “They say if you see a flock of crows you can tell the future by counting their number.”
     “That’s foolish.”
     “Is it?” He gave her a glance, then stared into the branches above them.
Seven for sickness
Eight for dying,
Nine for laughter,
Ten for crying. . .

     “It goes on like that for quite a bit.”
     “And how many did you count?” Megan asked.
     Devan gave her an arch look and grinned. “I shan’t say.”
     Megan smirked and rolled her eyes. “Such clever nonsense! The things you learn, being the son of a witch.”
     “Father tells me not to believe in any of it.”
     Devan folded his arms. “And do you believe everything your father tells you?”
     “Why shouldn’t I?”
     “He can’t know everything.” Devan gave her a sideways look.
     Megan scowled. She wasn’t sure she liked his tone; yet her curiosity continued to prevail and she did not leave. “Perhaps. Can you show me real power?”
     “If I chose.”
     “Well you’ll have to do better than counting crows.”
     Devan thought for a moment, then glanced toward a flowering currant bush and pointed. “Do you see that butterfly?”
     Megan followed his look, then nodded.
     Devan raised his finger and became still. After a moment of silence his lips parted and he spoke, barely a whisper. “Luatha, hemm!”
     The creature fluttered on command, bobbing as it circled to gain height against the breeze, then flew straight as an arrow’s shaft until it lighted on the tip of his finger.
     Megan knit a brow and gave him a narrow look. Not quite sure what to say, she could only stare. A breeze sighed in the trees.
     Devan grinned to himself and chuckled; yet as he caught her look his smile quickly melted. He shook his hand and looked down. “It’s nothing.” He stepped back. “More of a trick, really.”
     Megan’s eyes followed the butterfly as it flitted away. She stared after it for a moment, then turned to him with a mystified smile. “Do it again.”
     “There you are, worthless boy!” A shrill voice called.
     They turned as a woman approached. Short, with hair flaming red and piercing eyes, she stalked into the clearing carrying a large basket filled with tubers and herbs. A brace of hares hung from her belt.
     Like her son, the witch was soiled from head to foot. Her unkempt hair was tied back in a bushy pony tail. She frowned as she looked from Devan, then to Megan, then back at Devan. “Have you got any, or have you forgotten what I sent you to do?”
     “I found a whole bunch, right there.” Devan turned and pointed at a nearby log. Thick moss spread across its bark, and tiny brown mushrooms sprouted in small clusters.
     “Right. Well done, then. Where’s your basket?”
     Devan’s mouth fell open, and he shifted nervously. “I think I left it by the brook. I’ll have to go fetch it.”
     Ethne’s eyebrows contracted until she looked like a hawk. “Off mucking about, again. You’d forget your head if it wasn’t stuck to your shoulders.”
     Devan jumped as if burned, and began plucking handfuls of mushrooms while his mother glowered. “Gather as many as you can carry,” she said. “That lot’ll do.”
     Megan sidled away, but stopped as the woman turned toward her and smiled. She was missing several teeth, and her left eye had an inward cast. Freckles spangled her nose and cheeks. “How fares your grandmother?”
     Megan wasn’t sure what to say, but soon found her tongue. “Well enough, I suppose.”
     “Hmph! Beoden is stubborn as a goat. I could lend a hand but he won’t hear of it. I gave him his name when he was a babe. Did you know that?”
     Megan blinked, but said nothing.
     “No, I’ll wager you didn’t. I’ll come look after your grandmother if he sends word. Dumb as an ox, that priest of his.”
     “Yes ma’am.”
     Ethne stared for a moment, then shooed the girl away. “Off you go, then. Devan has work to do. No time for pretty faces.”

     Now that they had met face to face, Megan took notice whenever she saw Devan. One day he came down the road beside their farm, driving a small herd of goats. Busy with a cow she was milking, she barely took notice before returning to the task at hand.
     A few days later she spotted him fishing along the riverbank. She had gone after a goat that had gotten out of its pen, and chased it quite a way downstream before catching it.
     A week later she saw him again on the road that went past their farm. He led an ass, laden with two large bundles of firewood. She stopped her work then and took notice, remembering that afternoon in the woods, and wondering how he managed that little trick he showed her. Devan turned just then and caught her eye. He grinned and waved. She returned his smile, but at that moment her mother called her away and she thought no more of the boy, who it seemed, could summon creatures at will.

This is, of cours, only an exerpt of the whole story. That’s all I can post for free online. If you would like to read the rest and offer a critique, let me know. Email me at “gorion” at “email” dot com.

That’s all I can post for free online. From me to you, hot from the forge.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Legacy

I came across these lyrics while perusing old 70’s songs I remembered from the radio. As I listened to the words, this one sparked my imagination instantly, and I had to drop what I was doing and spend the next 20 minutes free writing.

The Leader of the Band
Dan Fogelberg

An only child, Alone and wild
A cabinet maker’s son
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none.
He left his home and went his lone
And solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know
I never can repay

A quiet man of music
Denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once
But his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love through discipline
A thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls
Took me years to understand.

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old,
But his blood runs through
My instrument
And his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band.

My brothers lives were different
For they heard another call.
One went to chicago
And the other to St. Paul.
And I’m in Colorado
When I’m not in some hotel,
Living out this life I’ve chose
And come to know so well.

I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road.
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go.
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don’t think I
Said I love you near enough.

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old,
But his blood runs through
My instrument
And his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band.

I am the living legacy
To the leader of the band.

The tale spoke to me of a wizard who lived a solitary life, and passed on what he knew to his only son, who went on to do great things. His father’s memory was a strength, and helped him through some of the more difficult decisions of his life.

So here’s your exercise of the day. Pick a song you remember from long ago, or one that’s popular on the radio today, and free-write for 20 minutes.

Post your comments here, and let me know what comes out of your forge.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mexican Salsa (muy sabrosa)

This is my favorite recipie. I compiled it from several sources and tweaked it until it came out just right. This recipie is family-sized (My wife and I have five kids), so if you use my measurements, you'll need a very lage bowl.

6 tomatos
1 white onion
6 Jalapenos (with seeds)
2 chopped Anaheim peppers
1/3 cup of white wine vinegar
1½ tablespoon of lime juice
Two 6oz cans of tomato paste
½ cup of chopped cilantro
1 ½ tablespoons of salt

2 tablespoons of chili powder.
1 to 2 cloves of garlic (a little goes a LONG way)
1 chopped avocado
Black beans
Black olives

You can mix all this up in a blender, but the tomatos turn frothy, and the whole thing comes out like runny ketchup. I prefer my salsa chopped. I have one of those hand-crank food processors that does a perfect job.

Some recipes mention that you should peel your tomatoes, but I have noticed no difference in either taste or texture. To peel a tomato, cut a cross in the bottom with a very sharp knife, then submerge the tomato in boiling water for about 45 seconds. After you pull it out, the skin will come right off.

Some recipes also say that the tomatos should be seeded. You can do that if you like, but it will make the salsa very chunky (a real Mexican would call it pico de gallo). I leave the seeds in, that way I don't need to add water.

Two magical ingredients are lime juice and vinegar. Vinegar enhances flavor, and also acts as a natural preservative.  Lime juice adds a little zing.

A third magical ingredient is salt. Add it in a little at a time. Remember, once it's in there, there's no turning back. Salt also brings out the flavor.

The fourth magical ingredient is cilantro. It adds that special je ne sais quois (I'd render that in Spanish if there was one).

You can play with the heat by adding more jalapenos.  I find that this recipe is very hot when first made, but that the heat declines after the salsa has sat overnight.  Another option to add heat would be to throw in a couple of serranos, which are quite a bit hotter than jalapenos.

So give this a try, and let me know how it comes out!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Beauty Queen and the Blogger

It's all right to offend conservatives. Whatever your reason is, they probably deserve it. Anyone else is off limits, though; or you're a hate-monger, you're a racist, you're un-american--and if you're Perez Hilton, you're a dumb b****.

Just about everyone's heard about the Miss America peagant scandal. How can you not? The latest to weigh in on this issue is the director of Miss California USA Pageant officials. They released the following statement: "We are deeply saddened Carrie Prejean has...[gone] beond the right to voice her beliefs and instead reveals her opportunistic agenda."

For a re-cap, here is her response, verbatim: "In my country--In my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised, and that's how I think it should be--between a man and a woman."

That doesn't sound to me like she's got an opportunistic agenda. She definitely has an opinion on the matter, but she's being respectful and we know where she stands on the issue, and she doesn't go into any details.

There are two things going on here. The first, and most obvious, is that the pageant officials are trying to distance themselves any way they can from Prejean's response. The subtext, however, is one of excoriating rebuke.

I have to wonder. Would the Miss California panel be equally outraged if Prejean had responded that she was for gay marriage? Most likely not. There is a double-standard out there. People talk about tolerance and acceptance, but in reality they mean tolerance and acceptance according to a specific point of view. To go contrary to an opinion that the media dubs as "approproiate" is considered hateful, narrow-minded, bigoted, and un-american. To illustrate my point, remember actor Tom Hanks' remarks, when he recently accused The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of being "un-american" for supporting California's Proposition 8. The LDS church's response was very short and to the point: there is nothing more American than being able to exercise your freedom of speech and stand up for what you believe in. I think the Miss America pageant is the perfect forum for Prejean's response, whatever her opinion was on the matter.

Power to you, girl! Well played.

But here's something else to consider, who vetted these questions? I hear people everywhere saying, "the Miss America pageant was not the proper forum for that sort of response." Well if that were true then why was that question approved to begin with? I'll ask again, would these same people think her response equally inappropriate if Miss Prejean said that she supported gay marriage?

That one, dear reader, I'll leave for you to decide.

There you have it. From me to you, straight from the forge.