Blogish Musings on a Rainy Day

As my life continue its shake-up towards new possibilities and destinations, I’ve been pondering more about the role this blog plays. Don’t worry, I’m not shutting it down. Don’t you even start thinking that’s where I’m going with this.

I do want this blog to be more, though, than just a place where I ramble on about my works, my kid, post a link or two and that’s it. I’ve been thinking about expanding the menu, if you will, on what the Cafe has to offer.

One thing I would like to do is start doing a favorite website/blog of the week. There’s a lot of good information contained at some of these sites that I want to share, but unless you’re familiar with them already, you’re not going to click on them. So starting tomorrow, I’ll do a short feature on a website that I like. Some are writing sites, some are parenting sites, some offer podcasts, and some are just fun to visit.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of doing short story reviews as well as book reviews. From what I’ve seen of the traffic that comes to the Cafe, a lot of people love the book reviews. Is there a way to get some of them excited about short stories as well? It’s hard to say, especially in this time where television appears to be the new short story medium. But I think it would be nice to include short stories in my reviews. Give some exposure to some deserving short story writers–and warn people away from badly written ones.

I also want to start linking more to writing advice and publishing news. It’s a good way to get the word out to my fellow writers out there. And it will force me to keep up with the times, too. Doesn’t hurt to be knowledgeable about such things, eh?

Hmm…I guess I need to set a schedule for myself. I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do (and what I’ll be able to do) by next week. There is, after all, a motive for this madness.

So stay tuned! Some good changes are in store!

“Christmas Eve at the Petite Bouchette” up at Poor Mojo’s Almanac((k)!

And another story is up!

Christmas Eve at the Petite Bouchette” is my first literary story to be published. I got the idea for it when on our way to a relative’s house for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, we drove by an adult bookstore that had its “OPEN” sign lit up. I wondered, “who would visit such a shop on Thanksgiving Day? Why would the owners have it open?” This story came out of those questions.

Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k) will have the story on their front page for one week, then it will be moved towards the archived section. I’ll put a link there when it does. In the meantime, enjoy!

Online Elfquest Comics for Free & Crowntree review!

I was going to post this on Saturday, but I never got around to it. So here it is on a quieter day.

ElfquestQuite an interesting stir in the independent comic book world. The creators of Elfquest, Wendy and Richard Pini, have decided to put every single issue up on their website–henceforth to be called the Digital Elfquest.

What is Elfquest? It’s a comic that started in 1978 about Cutter, the chief of a tribe of elves who are burned out of their home. In leading them to a new home, they meet a new tribe of elves including Leetah, their healer. From there spins a tale of adventure, romance, discovery, and danger as Cutter seeks to reunite all the elves scattered across the World of Two Moons.

When I first heard of Elfquest, I was in high school, where I saw a poster of the dancing elves in a classroom. I wasn’t into comic books–I always thought they were drawn too macho and muscular. But Pini’s style was more flowing, a style that I wouldn’t see until years later when I picked up my first anime manga. It wasn’t until I entered college that I got the nerve to buy the first graphic novel. Then the second. And the third (which took place the day after I bought the second since it ended on a cliffhanger…)

What really intrigued me about Elfquest was Leetah. This was the first time I saw in gorgeous, detailed print, a woman with dark skin. The romance between her and pale-skinned, blue eye Cutter drew me in, truly captured my imagination. Pini had a wonderful way of depicting their courtship and bonding with each other and their two twin children. But it was the story itself that truly engaged me, how Cutter and Leetah dealt with rivals, evil elves, quests for the elves’ birthplace, and a gradual, grudging relationship between the humans.

So I’m pretty stoked to hear that the Pinis have decided to put every single issue of Elfquest online–for free. I have all of the main graphic novels up to The Kings of the Broken Wheel , and some of the shorter novels that carry on the main storyline. I also have a whole bunch of comics, though the collection is far from complete. It’s wonderful to learn that I can finally read the end to some of those storylines–granted, at this point, the Pinis had brought in other artists to draw the story, but once you get used to the styles, the stories are just as compelling.

So I urge you to get on over to Elfquest.com and check out the whole story. The Pinis will be uploading an issue each Friday as part of their 30th Anniversary Celebration. You can view them at http://www.elfquest.com/gallery/OnlineComics3.html. Just a note for those with kids–although these are comics, there are some adult themes that run occasionally through the storyline. They are few and far between, but keep in mind these are not kiddie comics. I’m not going to let Daniel read them until he’s at least thirteen or fourteen…there’s some things in there that would be great for discussion for teens, like war and friendship. In fact, I can do a whole post on the different themes in Elfquest, but I’ll let you decide for yourself before you decide to let little Timmy read over your shoulder.

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In other news, I stumbled upon a review for Crowntree! It’s my very first review, ever, and I think that it’s good. Check it out at the Fix’s website . I know there are other websites that review short stories in print, but this is the first one I seen review short stories online. I’m quite pleased to see it up, and I’ll be visiting it regularly to check out other writers’ short works.

It’s not you, RoughDraft. It’s me…

Dear RoughDraft,

I’m sorry, but I’m leaving you.

It’s nothing to do with you. I like you. I really, really like you. You’re a wonderful program. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have been able to start all my short stories and essays. Well, I would have to use Word, that bloated behemoth who always leaves hairs in the sink, and that would’ve depressed me.

I remember when I first met you. You touted yourself as especially “designed for writers”. Remember when I downloaded you, and you opened up the possibilities of my writing career with your side panel for jotting down notes? That impressed me. Really impressed me. But it was your tabbed multiple documents that blew me away. To think that I could have several open documents that don’t clutter up my taskbar the way Word does–you really captured my heart in that. And your clipbook and file viewer, those were extra brownie points. You took my writing to a whole new level, and I deeply appreciated that.

Lately, I’ve been finding that I’ve been wanting more from you. Yes, I love that you have automatic formatting for prose and screenplays, but I want more flexibility about where I choose my tabs and indents. You wouldn’t do that. I wanted bookmarks so I can automatically go to the last paragraph I edited, but that wasn’t in your specs. And I wanted not just word counts–I wanted to see how many pages I written. But the only way to do that with you was to go to print preview.

I know leaving you will mean I will give up the notes panel and the file viewer. That really breaks my heart. But let’s face it: I’ve changed, and sadly, you haven’t. You haven’t been updated since 2005.

So, I’m going to look for a new writing program. One that’s freeware, or at least a decent price. I’ve been checking out Jarte, as of late. It looks real promising. It has some of the features you have, plus a lot of ones you don’t. Granted, they don’t have your note panel, though you can attach a note in their paid version. But they said they’re also working on it a comments feature similar to Word’s, and with that possibility, how can I not be charmed by that?

Don’t take this personally, RoughDraft. I’m not getting rid of you completely. I’m still leaving you on, in case I need to use the file viewer. It’s just that I won’t be using you exclusively for writing anymore. Maybe one day, when you do decide to update your features, you and I can have a working relationship again.

Until then, we’ll always have “prose mode”.

Love,

LaShawn

A “Kid’s Rock” Interlude

Sick of all those Kidz Bop commercials you see on Nickelodean where kids sing bubblegum-tripe versions of bubblegum tripe pop songs? Then turn your tired peepers to this:

I would buy it for Guns ‘n’ Roses alone.

Status update on Willow

My desk is clean. The whole house is clean. The boy is currently watching Diego. I got some free time on my hands. I could work on a new blog post (all right, I’m writing it now, yes. I know that. But there’s a reason for all this. Bear with me, okay?). But I could also work on some short stories. Since so many got published within the last month, I need to get some new works out there. I could work on some essays–I got some ideas in mind to try to get into Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Or…

I can quit dilly-dallying and start editing Willow.

On the “I should be Writing” podcast a few weeks ago, Mur Lafferty talks about pre-writing writing. It’s doing work on your book like outlining or character sheets, but not actual writing. However, it’s just as important, because it lays the groundwork for your book. Without it, you’re lost, or at least constantly changing your world without any set guidelines. I feel like I haven’t been working on Willow at all, just fiddling around with the storylines. But although it didn’t feel like work, it was very needed work.

Over the past few months, I’ve been writing out all the storylines, both major and supporting, of Willow by character. It felt somewhat convoluted, as I did each plotline according to each character, and in some cases, there was a lot of repetition. But I wanted to see how the storyline looked from each character’s point of view. In some cases, what one character did made me change the storyline of another character. Doing it this way, I was able to see the big picture of the book. It also made me realize that I’ll have to rewrite many, many chapters.

Ah, the fun of being a writer.

As of last Friday, all the storyline plots are done. I still need to organize them in a way that’s easy to read (I’m going to have lots of fun with my Storylines software this week), but I think that I’m done cementing the storyline to how I want it. Which means that, sooner rather than later, it’s time to dive back into the pages of Willow.

I suppose this post can qualify for psyching myself up for it. Although I’ve looked at my book while I worked on the outlines, I haven’t ‘touched’ it per se. Now that the actual plotline groundwork is laid, it’s time to look at the book and figure out how to clean it up to how I want it. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that. I know it will involve a whole lot of notes–it will also involve going through each chapter and figuring out what stays and what goes. I may even need to write new chapters. And which word processor should I do this all in? What I’m using now, RoughDraft, was nice for the first draft, but this will be an extensive rehauling. Should I utilize my Word 2007 for it? Should I look for another writing program? yWriter, for instance? Any writers out there with any ideas?

Hmm…don’t know yet. But I do know this–if I’m going to edit Willow, then now’s the time to do it while my schedule is free. So this is my accountability statement: that starting next Monday, March 17, 2008 I will start my major editing of Willow.

Hey, that’s St. Patrick’s Day! A Day of Green for a Willow book. That’s a nice sign, don’t you think?

Book Review: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

All right, all right already. I finished the book. It took me two months to do it, but I read it, so I might as well sit down and write this review. You guys been bugging me about it, so I guess I have no choice.

What did I think of the book?

I don’t know. I’m still sorting out my thoughts on it.

In some ways, I didn’t like the book. I didn’t like the way that it challenged my Christian beliefs. There were so many things in this book that had me mentally screaming: “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” before my brain stepped in. LaShawn, calm down. Of course it isn’t true. It’s FICTION.

But there’s more than that. As much as I like Authurian retellings, I didn’t particularly like this one. I know Bradley wanted to tell the story from the women’s point of view, and it does sound pretty intriguing. She uses Morgaine as the main protagonist, but other women also tell the story: her mother Igraine, her half-sister, Morgause, her aunt Viviane, who is also Avalon’s Lady of the Lake, and of course, Queen Gwenhwyfar.

There’s just one slight problem in using the women of the Arthur legend. They’re boring. They’re incredibly, incredibly boring. Igraine’s history was the least boring–it shows her trapped within a tolerable marriage when she learns that she will instead marry her lover at the cost of her current husband’s life. She struggles with being a pawn of Avalon and loving Uther, her lover. But once the book switches over to Morgaine’s life, things slam to a halt. Morgaine grows up at Avalon, meets Merlin, thinks a lot on how Christianity sucks and serving the Goddess is far nobler, falls in love with her cousin Lancelot, have sex with her half-brother Arthur under the influence of a pagan rite…

And that was the other reason I couldn’t stand this book at first. Part of the time, it felt like the characters did nothing but argue with each other “God!” “No, Goddess!” “No, GOD!” “NO! GODDESS!” The other part of the time was “HAVE SEX WITH ME!” “NO! I MUSTN’T IT AIN’T RIGHT! BUT I FEEL BAD, SO I WILL!” There’s a scene where after Arthur and Gwenhwyfar are married, Lancelot abruptly decides to make out with Morgaine, a very unpleasant image came to my mind. I saw Bradley watching “Days of our Lives” and scrabbling madly, Okay so lets have Morgaine start lusting after Lancelot, who’s lusting after Gwenhwyfar…and then we’ll marry Gwen to Arthur, who doesn’t know that Morgaine is carrying his child…and at some point, I should have Gwen and Arthur and Lancelot do a threesome…”

Ugh. There were times that I almost gave up on the book. Just for that alone. But I was determined to finish it. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment or something.

The sad thing is, most of everyone’s actions are done out of love. When Gwenhwyfar wasn’t being a naive, shrill Christian fundamentalist harpy, (and sadly, that’s how she’s portrayed), she is truly tormented over being in love with Lancelot because she’s been taught that she is only supposed to be in love with her husband (never mind that she had no say in her arranged marriage). Morgaine is broken over what happened with Arthur and runs away from Avalon, torn over her guilt of handing her son over to fosterage. She even gets caught in fairy world for a few years (I actually found that interesting), but mostly, she sits and spins and sees visions from the Sight, but doesn’t really do anything other than sit and mope and spin…

Things do change from soap-opera-like to more Shakespearian Tragedy-like when actions from the first half of the book come home to roost and everyone starts to die. Oops…gave it away there, didn’t I? But really, people are dying, left and right, and even then the bitter war of paganism vs. Christianity continued even there.

I guess what really got me about this book is that this wasn’t so much a retelling of the Arthur legend but only a bunch of Authurian characters sitting around arguing about Christianity and Paganism, so much so that it felt like the book was really a debate in disguise of a story. Since reading the book, I read Bradley’s reasons for why she wrote the book, which can be found on her webpage. I think she wanted to hold a mirror up to the church (and not just the medieval church, who certainly did corrupt the teachings of Christ–but also the church of today) and show what an outsider would think of Christianity based on what that person saw of the church. If this was a commentary or an article, I’m sure that she would have gotten a lot of interesting feedback from the theological world.

Unfortunately, people don’t read commentaries or articles for entertainment. They just don’t care to think that hard. So I think Bradley decided to couch the concepts she struggled within the retelling of the Arthur legend through the women’s point of view. But I don’t think she did it all that well, at least to me. Because most of her Christians portrayed in the story come across as uneducated, arrogant, oath-breaking, bigoted weaklings. Meanwhile, the pagans come across as noble in their intentions, open-minded, loving, respectable and wise. At least, on the surface (there are a lot of things that the pagans did in the name of the Goddess that made me shudder). Those pagans who do come to Christianity, such as Igraine and Kevin, don’t really say why they do so. (And as far as I know, Igraine only ‘appeared’ to convert, but she remained a pagan at heart.)

But this isn’t a theological paper. It’s a book review. So what do I think of the book? Questionable. In many places, boring as hell. In other places, a lot of headshaking. Would I recommend it? Not really, though I wouldn’t mind looking into what others think of the book. I’ve heard that many attacked The Mists of Avalon for being anti-Christian and having an extreme pro-feminine agenda, and yet I also heard that Madeline L’Engle praised the book. It is the type of book that gets me thinking, that’s for sure.

I will say one thing. Being a woman, it’s oh so tempting to fall into this book’s theology, that paganism is on the same level as Christianity. There’s a part of me that is enthralled by ritual and the respect of nature, women dancing in moonlight, that sort of thing. I believe, and here is LaShawn’s very own personable opinion, that one could be a pagan Christian, lighting candles and being champions of nature. I think there are many ways to worship him. But I cannot say, God, Goddess, it’s all the same thing. That’s just not what I believe.

I don’t know. At this point, I would give a rating to the book, but seeing that I’m still trying to figure it out, I honestly can’t. If I’m forced to, on the book’s literary merit, it rates two 1/2 out of five chalices, but what is the power that’s holding the chalice? God or something else?

Feh. I think I’m thinking too hard on this. I’m going to go rent Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That will put things back into perspective.

Β 3/13 edit: Found an critique on the newly redeveloped Internet Review of Science Fiction called “The Magic Mundane: Re-examining the Supernatural in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon“.Β There are some places that your eyes will cross from the large words, but otherwise, I found it an interesting take on the book. Check it out, why don’t you?