Writer Wednesday Bonus Post – Miguel Viscarra

 

 

 

 

From the fiery abyss of the underworld comes 20 hellish tales from the south and southwest. Within these charred pages are stories that will introduce you to the many demons that stay hidden but are always nearby…  Southern Haunts is an anthology of  stories of possessed people, objects, houses, highways, and the devil’s favorite playground – the forest.

For this blog post, we’ll follow author Miguel Viscarra as he talks about the inspiration for his contribution “And There Was Nothing Left But Ash…”

 

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Regarding inspiration for And There Was Nothing Left But Ash…, much like The Cleansing (in the initial installment of Southern Haunts), I really wanted to draw from my sociological background and once again focus on the dynamics of a relationship; albeit, the relationships of the characters in the story are much different than that of its predecessor. Primarily, the two main characters had a very picturesque and loving union, which I’d hoped that readers could identify with to some extent. I think that emotional connection is really important for the way things transpire throughout the story. The push and pull between the two main characters is really essential for drawing the audience’s sympathy, in hopes that they can see some semblance of identification within the characters. Whilst the characteristics and traits of my lead characters were important, it’s undeniable how significant the setting of my home state was for my second published work.

Researching and learning more about my own environment over the course of writing my works has been one of the most eye-opening and enjoyable experiences. I’ve only been to Deming, New Mexico a handful of times, and I can remember feelings like it was a very small town, very similar to my own. In New Mexico, I’ve seen many places that were reported institutions and tuberculosis wards in different parts of the state, but I was absolutely captivated by the uncertainty of the story surrounding Camp Cody/The Holy Cross Sanatorium. The rich history and fact behind the location was so intriguing. I stumbled upon numerous photos of the area when it was in its prime, and it was very important for me to really portray that historical basis through the accuracy of the location’s description. Moreover, the modern day information that I found regarding the setting was frighteningly real. To know that contemporary atrocities have been reported only makes the place all that more hellish.

I had the pleasure of visiting the area after a short vacation to Phoenix, Arizona to see one of my favorite bands, AFI. On the way back home from my trip, I stopped in Deming to uncover the place that I’d been so eager to dive into. I was surprised to see that there wasn’t much left today. What was still visible from afar were lost architectural relics on the desert floor of New Mexico. Once could still find the famed fountain, which in my story, serves as the intricate gateway that brings forth the fiery demon. All in all, I’d say the overall inspiration for the story was the desire to write a second tale in which readers could see very real human traits and traumas; an outlet that would provide an emotional fear that can be experienced by all.

 

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Book Review – Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey:
The Official Backstage Pass to the Set, the Actors, and the Drama

Written By: Emma Rowley
Format: Hardback
Published: 2014?

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey covers the first four seasons of the hit show and discusses how they do what they do. There’s not a lot to say for this review, but I’ll do my best.
I love this book. The details they put into the show are awesome and the details that they put into this book are sweet, too. Things that we’d never think of, they’ve done to perfection.
Also, it’s so nice to get a chance to actually look at something for more than a few seconds while it moves across the screen. I really enjoyed getting to study the clothing and sets.

Bottom line: If you’re a fan of the show, this book is a great way to get those little gems of extra information that a super fan wants. If you’re a fan of the period (Titanic through 1925ish), then check the book out, because you’ll enjoy it even if you’re not a fan of the show. 5/5.

Book Review – Best Baby Names

The Best Baby Names in the World: From around the world
Edited by JM Congemi
Paperback
2000

This book is weird.
First of all, the intro is this long story about how an American dad and Russian mom living in Europe tried to give a name to their kid that would work internationally and if only they had had this book, they would have had an easier time naming their son, David. Um. Yes, I know it’s probably knit-picky to complain about that, but I’m going to anyway. Because the point, I think, of a book like this is to be able to get some awesome international names. And to end up with something biblical sort of means they didn’t really want an awesome international name like this book offers.

As for the book itself. The book is arranged by area, then country, boy then girl. Each name has a pronunciation guide, which I love, definition, and an example of somebody who has the name, if applicable. Which were mostly weak. 1800s queens or presidents of obscure regional churches or the like.

Another issue that I had was that this book had a lot of international names, but – going back to the intro – if the point of the book was really that a multi-cultural family of whatever sort could find a name that was awesome, no matter where they were, why is this book listing so many common names, and why is North America seriously missing? Canada and Mexico have nothing, and the USA has weird stuff like Bobbi-Ann and Barbra (side note, Streisand spelled it wrong on purpose. It’s not a ‘uniquely American’ name, it’s a freakin’ stage name!) and weird ass spellings like Tyfany.

I also wish there would have been a second list where the names were combined instead of only having the segmented list. If you liked a certain sound, for instance, it’d be nice to see them together instead of looking through 20 sections of book.

All that said. The info given was excellent, the book just needed work. If you need a baby name, pick this up. But you may want to get it from the library instead of the bookstore. 4/5

Series Review of Star Wars “Legends”

For those of you who haven’t heard, the Star Wars EU (Expanded Universe) has officially become AU.  For those of you who don’t know what that means, hundreds of books and games that kept Star Wars fans busy between films and had a remarkably consistent cannon (given the number of books and authors involved) have been officially declared “not canon” under Disney law, and we have been told a new official canon shall rise up in its place.

For Star Wars fans this was a bittersweet moment.  Del Rey missed the point of Star Wars, and the EU became a war story and then a soap opera.  So to some degree it’s a relief to say The New Jedi Order never happened;  ____ and _____ and _____ never died; _____ and _____ were never destroyed; and _____ never turned into such a terrible person or _____ had an out of character brush with the dark side.  However, it also means a lot of really good books are getting relabeled as Star Wars “Legends”, and we’re anxious as to what the EU reboot has in store.

So in honor of this disturbance in the Force, I’m taking a break from this blog’s normal format to highlight some of the best books that are now Star Wars Legends.

Title: Heir to Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command (The Thrawn Trilogy) Author: Timothy Zahn
Why You Should Read Them: Set 5 years after RotJ (Return of the Jedi), the Thrawn Trilogy captures the fun, adventure, quality, and depth of the original Star Wars films.  It introduced new worlds, species, and characters which felt like natural extentions of the movies.  Mara Jade helps balance out the gender lopsidedness of Han, Luke, and Leia.  Grand Admiral Thrawn was a fresh kind of villian, formidable as Vader but in an entirely different way.  The writing quality was high.  The plotting complex but not confusing.  The secondary characters engaging.  Frankly if you read no other books in the Star Wars Legends, read these.

Title: The Truce at Bakura
Author: Kathy Tyers
Why You Should Read It: Set immediately after RotJ, The Truce at Bakura is a standalone novel.  Plotwise it’s fairly simple and straightforward, but Tyers manages to touch on deeper themes of the Force and religion without being heavy handed on the subject.  If you would like to take a first step into the Legends EU, this is a good place to start.  Well written, nice characterizations.

Title: Tales from Jabba’s Palace
Author: Multiple Authors
Why You Should Read It: This short story anthology is set around Jabba’s palace shortly before and during The Return of the Jedi.  It’s a fantastic slice of the growing complexity of the Star Wars Galaxy.  There are other Tales books (and I’d recommend most of them), but this one stands out because of the delightful way in which the individual tales manage to interweave.  Also a good starter title if you’re unfamiliar with anything beyond the films.

Series Title: X-Wing Series (9 books total)
Authors:
Michael Stackpole & Aaron Allston
Why You Should Read Them: After Timothy Zahn, Aaron Allston is easily my favorite Star Wars author.  He’s incredibly funny, but the humor seems to make the tragedies of war that much more real and poignant.  The X-Wing books are a spinoff series that focus on Wedge Antilles as he leads two different X-wing Squadrons, first Rogue Squadron (elite pilots) and then Wraith Squadron (the misfits).  While X-Wing: Rogue Squadron introduces Corran Horn (easily the most annoying Gary Stew of the Star Wars EU), they also introduce a cast of other fantastic characters and are generally well written adventures that deal with non-Jedi combat pilots.  You could in theory skip over the Rogue Squadron books to read Allston’s genius in Wraith Squadron, but Rogue Squadron does help a lot to develop and introduce certain characters, and if I recall there’s some crossover towards the end, so best to read it in order and start with X-Wing: Rogue Squadron.

[Sadly, Aaron Allston passed on this year.  So please help his legend live on by checking out some of his other books.]

Series Title: Jedi Apprentice (20 books total, including 2 Special Editions)
Authors:
Dave Wolverton (#1) & Jude Watson (the rest)
Why You Should Read Them: This pre-prequels kids series about teenage Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Qui-Gon Jinn picked up many adult fans during its run.  There’s a father/son like relationship that develops between these two over the course of the series.  Given the short format and target age, the stories are delightfully complex and don’t suffer from the repetitive campiness that afflicts many other series targeting the same age range.  They’re fun reads.

Series Title: Junior Jedi Knights(6 books total)
Authors:
Nancy Richardson & Rebecca Moesta
Why You Should Read Them: I’ve always been disappointed that they didn’t round this series out with three more books.  Junior Jedi Knights follows the adventures of Han and Leia’s youngest son at the Jedi Academy.  Very much kids books, but they were so much fun and often over looked.  So I wanted to give them a shout out on my top picks list.

There are many, many other good books in the Star Wars Legends lexicon (along with some that are best forgotten), but the above would be my top picks and books I would recommend first to the curious.

Book Review – Blood Roses

Blood Roses
Francesca Lia Block
Hardback
2008

Blood Roses is a collection of short stories from author Francesca Lia Block. According to the dust jacket they’re stories of transformation.

According to the dust jacket.

And according to me… I wouldn’t have known that if they hadn’t told me. This is a collection of “short stories” but really it’s just a bunch of vignettes. A lot of these lack any substance to be called much beyond an idea. And I don’t really understand what is transforming when the stories are a couple hundred words long and nothing is resolved and nothing changes and whatever else.

*sigh*

FLB wrote one of my favorite novels with a co-writer, and unfortunately, since then I keep picking up her solo stuff hoping to find something else that I like. And every time, I get something that sorely disappoints me. This time I was able to put my finger on it – she is great at a moment in time. But she’s not capable of filling out a story in a way that pleases me. After reading this collection, I can certainly tell which parts of the aforementioned favorite book are hers and which aren’t.

So I’m happily turning this one back into the library.
I’d give it a 2 on writing quality alone, but since the stories don’t, imo, actually manage the point of the collection, I’m going to give it a 1/5. I’m also going to stop reading her stuff.

Book Review – Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain
Annie Proulx
Paperback
Published 1997

So, I saw the movie, and when I saw the book on the bargain shelf at my favorite used bookstore, I was a little surprised to discover that Brokeback Mountain was a story before it was a script. And, it was like 5 cents, so, I picked it up.

This story is about 10k, by my estimate, which makes it the very high end of a short story or a novelette, depending on who you ask. And that count is only an estimate (and there was maths involved) so I’m just going to call it a story. Plus, it was originally published in both the New Yorker and a short story collection.

The story is really basic. Two ranch hands have one summer and then wish they had more time and do and don’t and… if you are at all familliar with the movie, you’ll understand – it’s no wonder they built a movie out of here, there isn’t much more than an idea.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of dialect and in some cases, even reading it out loud didn’t help and I ended up skimming over what was said. Also, Annie’s writing style is… not anything I’m a fan of, and there were a lot of sentences that felt like poorly structured and/or run-on monstrosities and I just wanted to take my red pen to it.

At least with this one, I can see why they got a movie idea from it, but the story needs a crapload of help.
2/5. Rent the movie instead.

Book Review – The Sun and Stars by Elizabeth Adair

Title: The Sun and Stars
Author: Elizabeth Adair
Format: 
Paperback
Published: 
2012

The Sun and Stars is a blend of cozy mystery, historical fiction, and romance with decent writing and poorly chosen cover art. Isabel Holland is the (fictional) illegitimate daughter of King Henry the VIII. When her cousin is accused of murder and theft at a joust, she takes the initiative and tries to clear his name by launching her own investigation into the matter.

Henry the VIII is my least favorite English monarch, and generally I prefer historical fiction that steers clear of active involvement by real people. Adair admits to playing fast and loose with certain historical details, though I suspect she’s a bit of an amateur expert on the period. But I appreciate her openness about entertainment over accuracy.

There were a few times where it felt like the book was struggling between its historical aspects and cozy mystery aspects. But over all the pacing was good. The only times I felt bored was when she dwelt too long on Isabel speculating on political rumors and possibilities instead of actively interacting and gathering information. There were the appropriate number of false leads for a mystery, a little bit of action, and while I wasn’t exactly charmed by Isabel herself, the secondary characters were colorful and engaging.

Adair shows her flair for description and imagery in brief spurts, but I feel like that was curbed to keep a more modern pace and probably shouldn’t have been. Those imagery moments, the introduction of the jester, sun hitting the water on a boat ride, etc. are the spots where the book shines brightest, and they are too sparse.

In truth Isabel is a somewhat clumsy detective, but her investigative methods are appropriate to her time period. (Modern deductive reasoning is centuries away.) And it is her first case, so there’s some realism to her not asking all the right the questions or exploring every avenue. My greatest disappointment is, while she gives a passing thought to others forgetting the two murdered guards, she makes no effort to investigate them herself. However, for a lady of the English court, it seems very natural for her to focus on the power behind the plot rather than the victims.

Over all this was a fun read and I think Adair has a lot of potential as an author.  (This is her first novel.) There are several aspects of this book that I would have liked to see pushed a bit further, which might have nudged it out of cozy mystery territory more firmly into historical intrigue, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing. There’s a psychological richness to the characters, but the revelations of layers seemed a bit rushed at times. So the impact is blunted.

I give The Sun and Stars a 3.6/5. It’s a better than average book, but there were a few rough aspects. So it nips at the heels of a 4 but doesn’t quite make it. I read an ARC copy that I picked up for free at a coffee shop’s book exchange, so quite possible the final version has more polish.  (I’m not knocking any points for the very few grammatical mistakes I saw as those are normal for ARCs and usually squeezed out before release.  I speak mainly of phrasing and plot roughness.)

P.S. On my comment about the cover art. The art isn’t bad so much as it seems unfinished. Other reader/reviewers I showed it to commented that they found it a bit cartoony for an adult mystery.  Occasionally ARC copies have different covers than the finished work, but in this case, it appears to be the same.  The interior artistic flourishes in the layout are nicely done and very appropriate.

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