Posts Tagged With: Stephen King

Half World by Hiromi Goto – A Review


Melanie Tamaki is human—but her parents aren’t. They are from Half World, a Limbo between our world and the afterlife, and her father is still there. When her mother disappears, Melanie must follow her to Half World—and neither of them may return alive.


I’ve now finished book four in the Women of Genre Fiction challenge. Can I just say that, so far, this has been a blast? All four books have been fun to read and have something to recommend. Okay, Frankenstein caused me to roll my eyes a lot more than the other three, but it was still worth reading.

And so was Half World. This book, written by Hiromi Goto, is the first YA title on my list. As you might expect from the blurb above, it’s a dark tale. Melanie is a fourteen-year-old living with her mother in poverty. She’s chubby and doesn’t do well in school, so is labeled a special needs student and is a victim of bullies. Crows seem to like her, though. Coming home from school one day, she finds the hovel she lives in empty and the phone that’s been out of service for months starts ringing. On the other end of the line is our villain, Mr. Glueskin, who tells Melanie she must come to Half World if she ever wants to see her mother again.

And so she does. But not without help. She enters Half World with the aid of a jade rat given to her by a neighbor woman, Ms. Wei, a shopowner who reminds me very much of Mrs. Whatsit from A Wrinkle in Time.

I enjoyed Half World. Melanie felt like a real teenager to me: smarter and braver than she realizes, and yet, capable of complete meltdowns when things just get too much. Half World, too, is really cool. Goto does a good job conveying the vague limbo-ish feel of the place, and the characters who exist there are a hoot–straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting–and yet, many of them are not just scenery. Certain scenes in Half World also reminded me of similar scenes in Stephen King’s Song of Susannah (book six of The Dark Tower). Roast suckling pig!

My only serious complaint with the book is, well, the premise. Goto defines Half World as the place everyone goes when they die. This is where Melanie’s parents are when Melanie is conceived, so they are already, presumably, dead.

Dead people conceiving children.

I just don’t buy that. I didn’t buy it in Angel, and I buy it less here. How does that even work?

But I liked Melanie and Ms. Wei so much–and Mr. Glueskin, awesome villain that he is–it was easy for me to just not think about it. (I also try not to think about it in Angel. And season 4 never happened either.) I also loved the illustrations created by Jillian Tamaki. 3.5/5

Categories: Books/Authors, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Next Big Thing – Novel in Progress

As I mentioned Sunday, the fabulous Kay Holt tagged me, along with the other authors from our upcoming Crossed Genres anthology Winter Well (coming out May 24), for the Next Big Thing Blog Hop. Today it’s my turn to answer some questions about my novel in progress. Remember the Winter of the Novel? Well, that’s the book I’m going to talk about.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

The Travelers.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea(s) come from a lot of places: movies (names of which I won’t mention because that would give away too much), music (Shooter Jennings’ Black Ribbons, among others (Ani, Joy Kills Sorrow, Leadbelly, Amy Ray, to name a few), has been played a lot and is responsible for my pirate radio dj, Erasmus Teller, existing), as well as the state of the world today. I wondered what would happen if I took the direst predictions of climate change scientists to their extreme, along with “free market” corporatism run amuck, and what that world, and the people in it, would look like fifty years out. That idea unleashed a lot of voices in my head wanting to tell their stories. So many that I’ve spun a group of them off into their own book (working title: The Tribe & the City). The characters that remain in The Travelers make up a group on the run (Erasmus and his daughter Bud, a rebel soldier and her physician lover (Tina Wheatley and Semira Sangare), and a man with many secrets (John Teague)) as well as the folks who are chasing them as they try to get to safer ground. Teague’s secrets are valuable, you see.

Along with a second novel, one of those “spun-off” characters also demanded her own novella (Seriously, she got in my face about it. “You know this community you’re writing about that I’m only an ancillary character in? I built it. Tell that story.”) and now appears as her younger self in “To The Edges,” my tale in Winter Well.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Speculative fiction, future dystopia.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m awful at coming up with actors to play my characters, partly because I suck at remembering actors’ names, unless the film’s fifty years old or more and black and white. That said, Freddy Rodriguez would work as John Teague, especially with the longer hair he wore in Bottle Shock. Erasmus Teller looks a lot like older Stephen King without the glasses. Beyond that, it’s all kinds of fuzzy.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

One sentence, huh? How about this one? In a corporate-controlled dystopian world, why is one man so important?

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I doubt I’ll self-publish; I don’t have that kind of chutzpah. Also, I love working with good editors. They make the stories better.

7. How long did/will it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Still in progress and has been for three years now. (I’m easily distracted by shiny anthologies looking for short stories.) I would love to have a finished first draft by the end of this year.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Coming up with book titles is something else I suck at. The Travelers is an action-adventure tale taking place in a degraded future world that also looks back through history a little bit with the stories that Teague and Teller share. It’s a dark tale with a snarky sense of humor.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have to blame fan fiction, actually. As I mentioned in this post last year, I started writing this book after a few months of writing Whedonfic kicked open the door to the writing part of my brain that had been asleep for a long time. With three accepted stories in the last three years, I’m calling that a win.

10.What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Um, let’s see. Pirate radio, car chases, explosions, lesbian romance, sartorial excess, and a good dose of alternate history/mythmaking are part of the mix. I hope that’s interest-piqueing.

Tag other writers…

Natania Barron was kind of enough to let me tag her to carry on the Next Big Thing blog hop. She’s the author of the Candlemark & Gleam novel Pilgrim of the Sky, as well as several works of shorter fiction that have appeared in many cool places. Can’t wait to learn more about what she’s working on.

Categories: Blog Tour, Books/Authors, Works in Progress, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pushing Against Uncreation

I have a guest post to share with you today! My friend Steph over at Visible and Real opened up her blog to guest posts recently, and I jumped in with one that you can read here, if you like. Of course, it’s only fair that I now get to post one of hers. I’ve known Steph for several years and have always admired her curiosity and enthusiasm in regards to, well, just about everything. Her joy is infectious. She asked me what I was looking for in a guest post, and I suggested she tell me about a book/movie/music that has influenced her. Given that we first got to know each other through discussing Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, it didn’t surprise me that she chose to write something about it and the stories we’re all entrusted to tell. I hope you find what she has to say thoughtful and interesting, too.

I think telling stories is like pushing something. Pushing against uncreation itself, maybe.
Stephen King, Song of Susannah

As M. Fenn will you tell you, I’ve been courting this one character for the past few years. I work ferociously on the project, then back off. I write write write, and then stop. Months go by and I don’t talk or write about the character or her world.

Novel in progress

Novel in progress

Yet, this character keeps nagging at me. I often feel guilty for not doing more writing, even as the to-do lists I have grow. She pops up as I listen to songs on random on my commute, and I think about her story. She keeps showing up when I have no pen and paper, just my mind and some time for silence.

Inevitably, when I start to think about storytelling and my characters, I think about Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. King started publishing the first Dark Tower short stories (which later became The Gunslinger) in 1978. He completed the series in 2004. (A new novel was added as book 4.5 in 2012.) While this wasn’t the only thing he worked on, it’s amazing to me to have characters stay with you for so long and want to be acknowledged.

I sometimes wonder if that’s what’s going to happen for me – that this character will not leave me alone until I do something about it. (M. Fenn keeps telling me the only way to get rid of the character is to kill her. Not sure I’m willing to do that.)

By the way, if you’ve never read The Dark Tower series, I highly recommend it. I realize that most people think that King’s work is all horror and gore, but it’s not so! I recommend this series so highly because it has something for everyone – adventure, quest, love, a touch of horror, and really good storytelling. (I’d tell you to go read and I’ll wait for you, but it is a little bit of a commitment, but worth it. But, this to say:

Potential spoilers ahead!

If you haven’t read it and plan on it, book mark this and come back. I won’t be mad. Promise.)

In books six and seven of the series, King becomes a character in the story, clearly marking his role in its creation. There is a responsibility that he has for his characters which he shirks, for many years. It comes to a bad end.

And while I don’t think that this story is about saving the world, I also wonder about my responsibility to my characters… and what happens when I don’t take the stories I’ve been trusted with seriously. There’s a lot of responsibility in that, and sometimes, I don’t know if I have it in me. I don’t know if I can do it justice, or if I want to be trusted with that responsibility. I firmly believe in the power of storytelling, and I wonder – daily – what it means when I strip that away, when I don’t listen to and tell the stories I’ve been entrusted with. What happens to the characters, but what also happens to me? When I don’t listen to the push to create – when instead, I allow the push for uncreation to win – what happens? Do I really want to know?

Sometimes I think that I think too much about this stuff. That I just need to let it go. But other times, I think about the seriousness of storytelling, how our lives are shaped and influenced by the stories and what it means to the world. King backs me up on this… that it’s not overthinking it at all.

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page. ~ Stephen King, On Writing

The blank page. The story. The tales we have been entrusted to tell. It doesn’t matter how I come to it – I just have to come to the act of writing it.

What story is asking you to push against uncreation in order to tell?

Categories: Guest Post | Tags: , , , , ,

Outsiders #3: The Man with No Name

Ages ago, back in 2012, I started a series of posts concerning outsiders in fiction. It’s a topic that continues to interest me, so today, I’m back at it. This time, my thoughts are about a character created by Clint Eastwood back in the 1960s.

Okay, just to be clear, I’m not going to be talking about Clint Eastwood as himself.

old clint eastwood talking to a chair

Anti-hero to the bitter end, eh, Clint?

That guy up there being an ass, or possibly a paid mole (and if he is, awesome, and pardon my calling him an ass), is not the subject of discussion today.

I want to talk about this guy. The Man with No Name.

Clint Eastwood - Man with No Name

Or the Man with Three Names, Just Not a Regular One, unless you count Joe as a regular name, which we’re not. Otherwise, it would screw up the whole Man with No Name thing.

I’ve been tinkering with this post for the bulk of January now. Our hero is indeed an outsider in all three films. No question there. But a hero? Not so much, except for in the first movie. The more I’ve thought about it1, the more I’ve concluded that the Man with No Name doesn’t really fit my definition of outsider hero, except for–like I said–in the first film in the trilogy. In the other two, he is far more mercenary and out for his own interests throughout, the complete anti-hero: relatively good in The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly and in the case of For a Few Dollars More, a complete dick.

Here’s that Outsider hero definition again:

A person who isn’t part of the society that he or she finds him/herself in, but saves the day or has an influence in how people change their way of thinking.

Do I still have a post worth writing then? Well, let me ramble on a while and we’ll see what we end up with.

As mentioned above, the Man with No Name appears in three films: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966). These films are considered a very loose trilogy. There is even some argument as to whether Eastwood is playing the same character in all three. I like to think he is, so we’re going with that. I also tend to watch the movies out-of-order when I watch them all together.

See, it makes sense to me that the story in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly actually happens before A Fistful of Dollars. It’s the serape, you understand. TMwNN (aka Blondie) takes it off a dying soldier in TGtB&tU and is wearing it in AFoD. (Apparently, Leone owned a time machine.) For a Few Dollars More then becomes the third film.

So, what kind of story do we get when we look at the films in that order?

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: This is probably my favorite of the three films. Eli Wallach (Ugly), Lee Van Cleef (Bad), and Eastwood (Good) are pretty much perfect in their roles as three gunslingers on the hunt for a fortune in gold. TGtB&tU is a film about relativism. Is Blondie really that “good?” Well, no, but compared with Tuco the outlaw and Angel Eyes the hitman, he is. Just don’t push him on the topic.

Another point in favor of this being the first film of the three is that it takes place during the U.S. Civil War, and the other two take place afterward. It also doesn’t strike me as farfetched that Blondie is Confederate soldier gone AWOL. Even before he disguises himself as a dirty Reb’, he’s wearing grey. I’m not completely convinced, but it’s a possibility I like to fiddle with.

All of these films, including TGtB&tU, benefited from Sergio Leone borrowing heavily from Akira Kurosawa. Eastwood’s back-to-the-camera entrance in TGtB&tU models Mifune in–well–nearly every film he was in. The cinematography in all three films is inspired by Kurosawa who was himself inspired by John Ford and American westerns of the 1930s. It’s a lineage of influences that I find fascinating. When Kurosawa was making his samurai films he was really making westerns, and when Leone made his westerns, he was really making samurai films that were really westerns. Neat.

Triangle composition: both directors loved this.

Triangle composition: both directors dug this.

I love that shot above. It’s the famous 3-gun standoff that rounds out TGtB&tU. All three characters give up opportunities to kill the others so they can get to this point, Angel Eyes in particular. It’s as if gunslinging were an art, and proving you’re the best involves a little showmanship (something Roland Deschain would agree with, I think, even with his lack of imagination).

Speaking of Roland, Stephen King borrowed a lot from this film for his own masterpiece, The Dark Tower. TMwNN, himself, obviously. Tuco tracking Blondie reminds me a lot of Roland following the Man in Black across the desert, as well. (Angel Eyes is even referred to as the Man in Black) Also, little details like Blondie cleaning his gun and Tuco being so careful about his weapons that he builds a custom gun out of parts in a gun shop. Roland was very particular about his guns, too. The interweaving of influences never stops.

gun cleaning

Blondie in the midst of gun cleaning. Notice the way he lines up his bullets. Gun hygiene is kind of an OCD thing, it would seem.

Our next film, A Fistful of Dollars, is a direct steal of Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo that starred Toshirō Mifune as an unnamed rōnin (that would be Outsider #1); Sergio Leone’s film company (Jolly Films) didn’t play nice and secure the rights before filming so Kurosawa and his film company Toho sued them, delaying the film’s release in the U.S. until 1967.2 (It almost was the second film!)

But that plagiarism doesn’t make A Fistful of Dollars a bad movie. Far from it. This film is iconic for more than the Kurosawa script. The storyline is pretty much the same (almost shot-for-shot in some cases): an unknown gunslinger hits a lonely desert town and discovers he can make some money playing two rival gangs against each other. Along the way, he rescues a woman from one of the gang leaders, is beaten for his efforts, and comes back to take down all the bad guys .

Once again, the cinematography is achingly good.

Like this shot, for example.

Like this shot, for example.

The music’s pretty good, too. Although Morricone’s theme for this film makes me giggle more than in the other two Leone films. Whick-it-wang!

It’s tempting to compare and contrast this film with Yojimbo, but that’s not really my point. They’re both good. I prefer the original, but that’s mainly because I prefer Mifune to Eastwood. Also, there’s no one in Fistful to compare with Tatsuya Nakadai.

crazy man who doesn’t care that the town is burning down; look at those eyes


Gian Maria Volonté: a fine actor for AFoD, but just not as cool as Nakadai; too much bronzer for one thing

TMwNN (called “Joe” by the coffin maker) is a very cynical/realistic man. He’s taciturn and restrained, and yet, when he sees Marisol’s son kicked by her kidnapper/rapist, it sticks with him. There’s more to him than just being a cold-blooded killer.

Marisol: Why are you doing this for us?
Joe: Because I knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help.

This response along with his remark that he “never found home that great” makes me wonder a lot about him. Was the woman like Marisol actually his mom or sister? A lover? Who knows?

Volonté shows up again in the third of this set, For a Few Dollars More. He plays El Indio, another overly bronzed villain whom bounty hunters TMwNN (known as “Manco” now) and Mortimer (Lee van Cleef) are chasing. Manco is after him solely for the bounty money. Mortimer wants El Indio because… dun dun dun… it’s personal.

Again we have another film–the other side of the cookie sandwich I’ve made with TGtB&tU on one side and AFoD in the middle–where TMwNN is not a hero. It’s almost as if what happened to him in AFoD when he tried to be a good guy was so traumatic, he decided to not do that anymore.

When the bad guys in AFoD beat him up, they crushed one of his hands, forcing him to re-learn to shoot with the other. In FaFFM, he still favors the original injured hand, only using it for shooting, and protecting it otherwise (manco means “one-armed” in Spanish). Makes sense to me that his hand wouldn’t be the only thing he’d be protecting after that.

But I still find him in this, and FaFFM in general, to be less interesting than in the other two films. The story’s weaker. Also, the film is padded with so many staring contests that I always end up yelling at the screen after a while. “Just start shooting already!”

But we do get the original 3-man stand-off, sort of.


more an isosceles triangle this time instead of an equilateral, but still cool.

I also like the weird, little, gremlin prophet guy who hates trains and the preamble that starts things off.

Where life had no value,
Death sometimes,
had its price.
That is why the
bounty killers appeared.

Just wish it were half an hour shorter.

Well, I ended up rambling on plenty, didn’t I? And where did that lead us?

Outsider, yes or no?
The Man with No Name certainly is. He’s a stranger everywhere he goes. He’s the wind, baby.

Is he a hero?
Depends on the movie. In Fistful of Dollars, he definitely is, rescuing Marisol from her imprisonment and sending her on the road with her husband and their son. He even gives them money. We also get a bit of a reason why Joe is being helpful, something that Sanjuro keeps to himself in Yojimbo.

Joe is also a hero because he defeats both crime gangs, freeing the town. Again, like Yojimbo, his motives aren’t clean and pure, but the results are for the good.

Manco and Blondie, though? The anti-hero trope is strong with both of them. Mercenary, sadistic, and just plain mean, TMwNN is not a good guy in either of the remaining films. Even if the title of one says he is.

Does this guy change anyone’s way of thinking?
Meh, not really. Perhaps in a let’s-not-do-that-again kind of way, but in general, no. I don’t really see anyone in any of these films changing the way they live their lives because of our gunslinger. Except, perhaps, for Marisol and her family.

Why is he cool?
He’s Clint Eastwood in a serape! One of the best movie icons of cool, even after fifty years, and I’m not going to argue with that.

Would you argue with him? Don't say anything mean about his mule either, if I were you.

Would you argue with him? I thought not. Don’t laugh at his mule either, if I were you.

Even if all he does now is talk to empty chairs.

1. Yes, this is the kind of stuff I spend a lot of my time thinking about.
2. Just a note: Toho doesn’t fool around. Godzilla is still under copyright and they will sue your ass if you use him (or his roar) for your own devious purposes.

Categories: Movies, Outsiders | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Words in Progress

“Come to the edge, he said. They said: We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them and they flew.” – Guillaume Apollinaire

As I was getting my novella “To The Edges” (which actually had nothing to do with that Apollinaire quotation, but I just ran across it and it really fits, so now it does) ready to submit a few months ago, I decided that this winter was going to be…

**dramatic fanfare**

The Winter of the Novel!

Because the damned thing has pretty much stalled, and I really would like to finish it before I die. So, dramatic fanfare and bold italics were called for. My plan: from the day I submitted “To The Edges” (which turned out to be Hallowe’en) until the spring equinox, it was going to be all 2082 all the time.

And so it has. I started out by rereading all 169K+ words and was pleased to discover that quite a bit of it doesn’t suck. Some of it, of course, does. Like, why did I give a very minor character almost a page of description completely derailing the scene he’s introduced in? He’s a big guy who sewed his brother’s eye shut. Nobody cares about his business practices, M. And no, I don’t know why he sewed his brother’s eye shut yet. Still figuring that one out.

But quite a lot of these words are very salvageable. There’s a story in 2082 that I still like a lot and want to share with folks once it’s done. What I’m seriously pondering is whether a major subplot even needs to be there, though. It’s interesting in its own right and has ramifications in all my world-building, but is it the story?

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” – Stephen King

That major subplot is a good story, too, I think, but is it this one?

So, that’s part of what’s been going through my mind as I’ve moved on to editing, rewriting, moving things around, crossing shit out. Seriously wondering about structure, pacing, all that. Oh, and what happens next.

Last night, though, while R was rubbing my shoulders (because he’s neat like that), I had a bit of a revelation. I realized that my big problem is that those two stories should each be their own book. When that thought popped into my head, a little weight lifted off my shoulders and I could feel things sliding more comfortably into place. Two stories, same world. One won’t necessarily be the sequel of the other, although it kinda sorta might be. Crossover business will definitely happen.

Does that mean it’s going to be…

**more dramatic fanfare**

The Winter of Two Novels?

No. One at a time, please. That was part of things feeling right: I don’t have to do it all at once. I might even finish one, now that I cut the sucker in half. Here’s hoping, anyway. Especially since I still don’t know how the one I’m going to be working on ends.

I know the ending of other (new working title: The Tribe & The City), but the one I want to finish first (now called: The Travelers), I’m still not sure. I was hoping by getting myself immersed in the book again, I could start to figure out that part. And things are starting to bubble, so I’m hopeful.

Yeah, this is a pants kind of operation. Although I like Felicia Day’s idea.

“When I get stuck writing, I just put in, ‘Suddenly a Nuclear Bomb hits the town and all the characters die. THE END’ and go eat chocolate.”

There will be chocolate. And probably explosions. One of my main characters loves to blow stuff up, so that can’t be helped. Will there be nukes? Could be. One of the darker endings I’ve come up with has that happening, kind of a last man standing sort of ironic thing, but R thinks that’s too gloomy. And if this world is going to hang around for another book, that could be problematic. We’ll see. Wish me luck!

'Hardtack Umbrella'  underwater nuclear test -...

(Photo credit: The Official CTBTO Photostream)

Categories: Works in Progress, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Hooker Headers and Thrush Pipes

Okay, so this post isn’t going to be about muscle cars, other than metaphorically. Sorry, car folk.

When I was in high school, getting a muscle car and fixing it up was something a lot of guys aspired to. Motorhead girls weren’t quite as common. But that’s not the point of today’s post. The point is that these hot-rod guys were fixing up their cars to go faster, sound louder, and catch people’s attention.

So, it is with hookers in stories. I just finished reading Stephen King’s Secret Windows last night, and one of my favorite essays was his conversation with his son, Joe, about writing good first lines for stories or novels (known as hookers in the trade), lines that grab the interest of the reader right off the bat. He listed a lot of his favorites, and that got me thinking about some of mine. Continue reading

Categories: Books/Authors, Works in Progress, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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