One Story to Rule Them All. One Story to Bind Them. (Or how a writer’s brain works with other stories)

Every once in a while, my hubbie gets a hankering for some orc. Not cooked, of course. The movie kind of orc. So I dig out our extended version of Lord of the Rings and let him glut his fill.

This time around, however, I found myself maddeningly distracted. Wasn’t by Sean Astin’s perpetual scowl or Viggo Mortensen’s perpetual scowl or Orlando Bloom’s perpetual…uh…hmm….okay, Sean Bean’s perpetual scowl.

Nope. I was distracted by the story.

What made the story tick? What moved the story along? How did the characters get from point A to point B? How do the choices Frodo makes influence the story? As we moved from the Shire to Rivendell to Rohan to Gondor…I couldn’t stop myself from analyzing. In a weird way, it was similar to what I did with Xanadu on the Agony Booth…except Peter Jackson put special effects to actual good use…

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a writer. Aren’t I supposed to notice such things already? Ahh…but that’s just the thing. When I first started writing, when I read books or watched movies, I never really thought about such things. I just read, or watched, and pretty much enjoyed (or, if the story sucked, not enjoyed).

But ever since I started writing seriously, ever since I started editing and revising my own work, I found myself reading a fantasy book and thinking How did the author make this work? What makes this story publishable? I started keeping notes, sometimes comparing the book to my own novel-in-progress. I guess it’s not surprising that I’m beginning to view movies in the same way. After all, a movie is just a short story. (Though not in the case of the LOTR…but that’s besides the point.)

All this analyzing, though, has me a little worried. Won’t I get burned out? Can’t I just enjoyed a story and not care about character development, plotline, protagonist and antagonist? What if I get sick of all this analyzing and just stop reading and watching movies altogether?

I don’t think that will happen. At least, not in the near future. For one thing, there are ways to entertain myself that don’t rely on books and movies. I can listen to music. I can play pretend with Daniel. I can knit. Play video games. I think a little balance is in order to keep me from glutting on too much story.

But I think there are also times when I can read a book and just enjoy it for what it is without trying to figure out what makes it tick. I just finished reading White Oleander by Janet Fitch with the clear intention of not trying to analyze it. Went pretty well, I think. I’ll have to put up the review of it soon.

I think also genre plays a big role in it as well. With LOTR being fantasy, of course it will get my analytic juices flowing, since the story has elements that I can use in my own work. The other day, I watched Vertigo, and not once did I wonder about how the character development influenced the storyline (though at the time, I was mashing roasted garlic into potatoes for Thanksgiving). It was a nice change of pace from all the fantasy stuff I was reading and writing.

I wonder if that’s the reason why writing experts suggest reading outside of your genre. Not so much that you don’t get burned out, but it helps your brain to rest, to enjoy story without getting burnt out on it. Any other writers out there who want to chip in your two cents? Be curious to know if you’re at the same point I am, or offer any other advice.

As for me, it’s late. We still need to finish the second half of The Return of the King. It’s gonna be a loooooong night.


Want some more turkey to digest–read my “Xanadu” review at The Agony Booth

Some articles are written for money. Some articles are written to get your name out there. Some are written out of obligation.

And there are some articles that you absolutely, must write.

For years, I’ve been a huge fan of The Agony Booth, a website that reviews bad movies. I never thought I would be funny enough to attempt a movie review of my own, but when they opened the site to submissions, I thought I’d give it a try.

Well, all that hard work in September paid off. Behold, my review of “Xanadu”.

Be warned. This is an in-depth analysis of the movie, so it is much longer than a standard movie review. So make sure you have some free time. I also like to thank Albert Walker for editing and cleaning up the article. In a sense, this gave me some good experience in writing articles.

And oh yes, it was a lot of fun…and a whole lot of torture, too. Enjoy!

Interview with two black female fantasy writers

Over at Fantasy Magazine, there’s a very interesting interview of Carole McDonnell and Alaya Dawn Johnson, two fantasy authors who are both black and female. Seeing that I’m both, I found it quite liberating to hear two women like me talk about their work, Christianity and the changing state of speculative fiction to a more multi-cultural setting. K. Tempest Bradford, who’s also the author of The Angry Black Woman blog, heads the interview, so hop on over and check it out!


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Another sign that life as you remember is becoming obsolete…

Okay, think back. Way back. Remember back when they had the Fisher Price record players? Come on, if you’re a product of the 70s, of course you do.

Fisher price records

It came with plastic records that you pop it on the turntable, wind up the crank, put the ‘needle’ on and out came music box nursery tunes like “Jack and Jill”, “Humpty Dumpty” and “Edelweiss”. (How exactly a Roger and Hammerstein song qualified as a nursery song is beyond me, but that’s beside the point). I know I had one as a kid; in fact, every kid I knew had one. So imagine my delight when I went to my son’s playgroup and found one of these that a parent brought in.

Oddly enough, none of the kids seemed interested in it–they wanted to play with the bikes and balls and other toys we bring out for them. So I decided to wind it up and show the kiddies how it’s done, old school. Pretty soon, I had a whole bunch of two-and three-year-olds surrounding me. I felt pretty good…until this happened:

Daniel (coming up): Ooh! CD!
Me: It’s not a CD. It’s a record player.
Daniel: I wanna play the CD!
Me: No…no…see, it’s called a record player. See, you put this on here.
Another kid: Where’s the volume? I can’t hear it.
Me: Well, you gotta turn the dial here…
Yet another kid: I wanna fast forward.
Me: You’ll have to get another CD…er, record…I mean…
More kids: I wanna play the CD!!!
Daniel: No, I want the CD. <put record on the turntable> It’s not playing, Mommy.
Me: Well…you gotta put the needle on…NOT LIKE THAT!!! Gently…gently…
(Daniel listens for two seconds, then wanders off to ride a bike.)
Me: Uh…
Same kid from before: These CDs won’t play right. Borrrring.
(All the kids wander off, leaving a blinking Mommy and a Fisher Price record player playing Edelweiss.)
Me: Sighhhhhhhhhhh.

Book Review: Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells

We’re going back to the basics here. I wanted to get a feel for what standalone fantasy novels would be like, so I picked up Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells. When I came across this book, I like the picture of what looked like a black woman on the back (why she wasn’t on the front, when she was clearly the main character of the book, I have no idea. Well, I do know, but I’m just going to shake my head and let the Angry Black Woman rant about it). And any fantasy book that has a black woman on it, I figured, was worth reading.

Ah well. I can continue to hope.

The book focuses on a woman named Maskelle, who is considered the “Voice of the Adversary”. She meets up with a swordsman, Rian, who instantly latches to her for no reason. they travel to a city where an ancient rite is threatened. Aliens from another world are trying remaking the world in their own image, and Maskelle is called by the Adversary to stop it.

On the whole, it felt like a short story overbloated with too much information. Lots of infodumping and telling without showing. She also chooses odd things to focus on that don’t pertain to the story. For instance, during one scene, we get a long history about a group of people watching the show, the Mahlindi. We never actually see the Mahlindi again, but we know why they act the way they do. I get the feeling Wells did this to show how ‘diverse’ her world was, but the infodumping got old real quick. I wound up skipping so many pages, the stuff I was supposed to know got lost in the useless details.

It isn’t until we get to the middle of the book that the story picks up and all the infodumping fades to the background. Wells does a good job balancing the book between Maskelle and Rian’s point-of-view, and there’s one scene where the two POVs merge seamlessly–when Rian is fighting off assassins while Maskelle in spirit form goes after the person threatening the rite. Wells did a nice job of balancing the two POVs by putting Maskelle’s in italics, signifying her being in the spiritual world, while Rian’s remained normal in the physical world. It split the action up very nicely without confusing the reader on who was doing what.

Maskelle’s power comes from the Adversary; a spiritual being that’s considered a god of sorts. Throughout the book, it speaks and acts pretty fickle. But towards the end of the book, we learn something unexpected–something has happened to the Adversary to make it go mad. That was a very nice twist–to have a higher power you pray to go insane makes the ‘oh crap’ factor go up significantly. I really enjoyed reading how Maskelle reacting to her gods insanity…

…until I saw what they did to save the god. And I thought Hey, that’s the same thing I wrote in a fanfic once. Except they had more fun doing it. So sadly, after a good buildup, the book ended on rather a wussy note. How disappointing.

I think if a lot of stuff got cut, this would’ve made for a sharper, cleaner story, but then, I don’t think it would’ve been a book. I am quite disappointed with it, and I’ve wasted nearly three months trying to get through this book. I give it 2 wheels of the infinite out of 5, just because of the POV mashup and most of the middle of the book. And if our Lord in Heaven ever goes insane…well, let’s not think about it.

My first review! Sort of…and NaNoWriMo

Got this off the Kaleidotrope blog:

“Sam Tomaino of SF Revu offers a quick overview of Kaleidotrope #3, as well as some nice words…”

I hopped on over and read this:

“The October 2007 issue of Kaleidotrope is another nice one with a fine mix of stories and poems. I liked all the stories in the issue.

The issue starts off with “Click” by LaShawn M. Wanak. The story start with the narrator typing words into a keyboard, “A little girl is crying” and seeing the effect this has on the reader. More details are supplied. How long can the narrator manipulate the reader?”

He then mentions the rest of the stories and winds up with:

“Kaleidotrope is a small press magazine that deserves your support.”

Well, gosh! My first review…sort of. Granted, it’s more part of the whole, but still, it makes me feel great that I contributed to that overall nice feeling.


By the way, you probably noticed the distinct lack of NaNoWriMo at the Cafe.

Around this time last year, I had already churned at least 8500 words and having the time of my life in writing abundantly and with abandon. It was great.

A year later, I haven’t given much thought to doing NaNo at all.

It was something I knew would happen. I figured I would be waist deep in doing Willow edits that I wouldn’t have time to work on anything new. And I’m quite glad I didn’t plan to do it–right now, life is so crazy that if I had added NaNo to the mix, I would be literally tearing the locs out my hair. So this year, NaNo’s taking a back seat while I focus on edits.

Will I do it next year? Depends. Maybe Willow will be out making its rounds at agents next year. Maybe I’ll still be stuck in editing mode. Maybe I’ll totally trash Willow and write erotica instead….

Nahhh….I’m not gonna do that last bit.

I’ll wait until Willow’s done first. I do have priorities, ya know.