Thursday, 14 October 2010
As in, I was almost a Writers of the Future winner. Probably most folks reading this knew I was a finalist for the second quarter of the WOTF contest this year. That means my story—entitled "A Phalanx of Flowers"—was in the top eight, from which three would place as winners and get published in their anthology. I just found out, after an exasperating three month wait, that I didn't place.
What is one supposed to say in this situation? It's hard to be discouraged—after all, the fact that my story made finalist is plenty of validation that it's good. In fact, the contest administrator made a point of telling me multiple times that it's publishable, that I should submit it elsewhere. And I will—but the fact remains, yesterday the story had a three in eight chance of being published, and today its back to the slush pile. (Actually I told WOTF that they can hold onto it until March; sometimes they will publish non-winning finalists if they need to fill out their anthology, so I'll cross my fingers for that.)
I guess the real reason I'm discouraged is that this story was probably my best bet for winning the contest. I've come to a pretty good idea what the contest is looking for and my finalist story hit it dead on, but what I usually write isn't quite a match. I've already entered stories for the third and fourth quarters of the contest, but I know that neither of them is as good as "Phalanx".
All that aside, it doesn't really change anything. I'll still try to write every day. I'll keep submitting. It just gives me some motivation to finish off the novel I've been working on and get some more short stories written, so that I can keep entering WOTF. I know that I'm capable of reaching that winner's circle, so now it's just a matter of time and persistence, right?
Saturday, 07 August 2010
Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief is a novel both broad in scope and minutely personal. It is the story of Gen, a talented thief that at the story’s opening is captive in the king’s prison, victim to his own bragging. But when the king’s magus wants to steal a fabled relic from another kingdom he needs a master thief, and none is more skilled than Gen. So begins Gen’s adventure, as the magus and his companions set out on a journey to steal the unstealable.
Turner fashions a well wrought web of history and political intrigue, painting it on a canvas of half-forgotten gods and myths. The first half of the book is relatively slow as we learn about Gen’s companions and the kingdoms they inhabit, but I was never bored. The world, based loosely on ancient Greece, is lush and interesting, and the characters are all deeper than they first appear.
Unfortunately The Thief suffers from one major flaw: the story is told from Gen’s point of view, but we know next to nothing about his personal history or motivations until the very end. Gen isn’t an unreliable narrator, which, handled well, can make for a clever twist; he is a deficient narrator, simply omitting key pieces of information until he springs them on the reader with self-satisfied relish. It makes an otherwise thrilling story somewhat flat; Gen could have been a lot more interesting and sympathetic a character if we had known his plans all along.
Despite my complaints, I did enjoy The Thief. I have it on good authority that the following books are better, so I’m looking forward to reading those too. Megan Whalen Turner has created a vivid, fascinating world, and I can’t wait to see what else happens there.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Pushing Daisies was on the air for one year, eight months, ten days, two hours, and fifty-nine minutes before the series came to a premature end, a casualty of low ratings and an unfortunate proclivity for cancelling outstanding shows in their infancy. Even so, this zany fantasy-comedy—part modern day fairy tale, part detective series—is worth watching for just the twenty-two episodes that were produced.
The facts are these: Ned is a pie-maker with a gift—he can bring dead things back to life. But there are a few caveats. Touching a dead person once brings them to life, but a second touch makes them dead again...forever. And if Ned leaves anything alive for more than a minute, something else must die in its place. When a private investigator discovers his magic touch, he concocts the perfect use for it: Ned touches murder victims, asks them who killed them, re-deads them, and together they collect the reward for solving the murder.
With a concept like this, you can imagine the stories are all pretty outrageous—this isn’t a show to take too seriously. Much like its predecessor, Wonderfalls, every episode has it’s quirky, off the wall premise, but what makes it work is that the characters, the relationships, their joys and sorrows, are all very real and heartfelt.
And it’s the characters that make the show. Ned, as proprietor of “The Pie Hole”, is charming and humble. Emerson Cod is the ornery PI, a perfect foil for Ned. Charlotte “Chuck” Charles is Ned’s alive-again girlfriend, who he can never touch. Chuck’s aunts are more than a little eccentric, but have their own charm to them. And the lovelorn Olive Snook, played by the luminous Kristin Chenoweth, brightens every scene she’s in. I’ve come to despise her character on Glee (though, damn can she sing!), but I adore her in Pushing Daisies (and she sings here too!)
A comedy like this lives and dies by its dialog, and in Pushing Daisies it comes fast and clever, easily on a par with shows like Gilmore Girls or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You’ll have to watch an episode more than once to catch every subtle reference and play on words. All the actors are up to the task, including the one gem that never appears on screen: Jim Dale as the narrator, wry and intrusive, yet so perfect as the all-knowing voice of the fairy tale that is being told.
The final piece of the Pushing Daisies oeuvre is its visual design. It’s like nothing you’ve seen on TV before; every set is full of bright colors and eye-catching shapes, like a storybook come to life. Sometimes the frequent use of CGI can be jarring, but overall the look fits the tone of the show perfectly.
I can only lament that, like so many of my favorite shows, Pushing Daisies was cut off so abruptly. The final episode of the series does nicely wrap up one major storyline, and there is an awkward effort to wrap up a few others. Other threads left hanging. Even so, don’t let that deter you; step on down to The Pie Hole, order up a slice—a la mode, if you prefer—and prepare to be entranced.
Sunday, 11 April 2010
My grandma passed away this week, and my dad asked me to say a few words at the funeral. This is what I said:Many of my fondest memories of childhood are of time spent with my grandma, and who I am today is in large part because of her attention and care. I suspect she thought I would become an architect, the way we would play with building blocks for hours on end. I'm sure the beginning of my engineering nature can be found in the precise folds of the origami she helped me construct. Most of all I can see her hand in my love of writing. She fostered my imagination, reading to me and encouraging me to come up with my own stories.
I remember some of the things Grandma would feed me. It sounds awful to me now, but at one point I really liked her liver sausage spread on bagels. She always had curious opinions to share when it came to food. I shouldn't have whipped cream on my hot chocolate because the air in it would fill me up before I got to the rest of the meal. And all the vitamins! There was always something I should avoid or be getting more of. But judging by how long she lived a healthy and independent life, she was right more often than not.
The last time I saw Grandma was a few months ago when my wife, Tracy, and I told her that we were expecting a baby. "You're going to be a great-grandma," we said. We had to repeat it a little louder for her to hear. In her spirited way, she quipped, "But I'm already a great grandma."
I'm sorry that Grandma won't have a chance to see the baby after it's born, but I do know that my daughter will see Grandma's mark on my life every day.
Saturday, 06 March 2010
I really wanted to love The Poison Throne. Not just because it sounded like the sort of book I should love—Mystery! Intrigue! Romance! Adventure!—but because I picked it up in New Zealand, several months before it would even come out in the US. And while I usually depend on other people's recommendations for my reading selections, it would be nice, for once, to be on the cutting edge, to discover a gem before everyone else and be the one doing the recommending.
And it is good. Its setting was exquisitely realized, a faux-European kingdom of the middle ages with a realistic feel that I haven't often seen. The characters are deep and intriguing. And there is a promise of mystery and profound happenings.
But that's where the book falls flat. For that's all the promise ever is—a promise. Wynter Moorhawke, our intrepid heroine, returns home after a five year absence, to discover that something is not right with the kingdom. We see a lot of what is wrong, but we never really learn why things have changed so much; for that matter, we never really learn the circumstances under which the king sent Wynter and her Father away in the first place, except in the way of the most roundabout and vague hints.
And so, while the characters go through trying times and make difficult choices, I was never entirely sure what their motives or reasoning were. It was too clear that there were things they knew that I did not. (Or else they blithely ignored the questions that any rational person should have been asking in their situation.) It kept me from being as involved as I should have been and, even though I enjoyed my reading of the story, by the end I was left asking: what was the point? This is the first in a trilogy; I can only hope that the later books fill in everything that was missing here. But even if they do, it leaves this first installment wanting.