Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Story Portals Going Live!

Story Portals is a new hub for fantasy adventure stories, set to go live on September 1st, which for most of the world, is already today!

The launch character is Katya, a lady assassin and the sole remaining follower of the goddess of love and death, Shi'in. For those who read a lot of D&D novels, at least a couple of the names on the roster for writing Katya will look familiar, such as Marsheila Rockwell and Richard Lee Byers.

Ten stories are going to be available at launch with an eleventh available to registered members, with new stories to come. I'm happy to say that one of them will be mine.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Classic Read: The Road Back

When I was in school, I had a love/hate relation with my English classes. I loved creative writing. I hated having to analyze the classics and there are certain books much beloved in literary circles that bored me to tears.

But there was a bright spot in all the assigned reading. Sometimes I actually did find a book I enjoyed, no assigned reading book reached me and possibly influenced me as much as All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. It's the story of a young German soldier assigned to fight in the trenches in World War I and how it whittles down everything and everyone he cares about. Perhaps because the main character was only a few years older than me, I found him relatable.

Some years later I heard that there was a sequel called The Road Back that followed characters from the same combat company, but since Paul dies at the end of All Quiet I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. And then I was busy with college, then work, and for a good long while I forgot about the whole thing.

Until I had a hankering to read All Quiet again, and finding myself without a copy at home, I drove over to the public library to check out a copy. They also had The Road Back and I figured, Why not?

I wish I hadn't waited so long.

Though many of the characters who appeared in All Quiet on the Western Front are dead, Tjaden makes a return, still very much the light-hearted prankster of the group, and we're given names to newer characters who presumably were always there in the first book, but weren't as close to Paul (the first person narrator of All Quiet) to have been worth mentioning by name.

For instance, there's a reference to the time they caught two suckling pigs and made pancakes during an air raid. In the first book Paul mentions there were eleven people in the group, but we didn't know the names of all of them at the time. Now we know a few more.

Ernst, the main character of The Road Back, is a similarly eloquent first person narrator to Paul, but does not suffer from the same despair that Paul eventually falls into. He and his friends come back from the war only to find it difficult to fit back into society, which is going into upheaval due to a revolution that has driven the Kaiser from the country and turned Germany into a republic.

Aside from political issues, food is still scarce among civilians and there is little effort to integrate the veterans, several suffering from what we now call PTSD, back into society. Ernst and some of his friends attempt to resume going to school, where they had been studying for their teaching credentials, but their schoolmasters have no idea what it's been like for them in the war and the former soldiers have little patience for what they see as useless work.

All the former soldiers deal with their return differently. Some recover quickly, becoming successful business men. Others fall prey to the demons still haunting them. Ernst himself runs in the middle, for though he cannot escape his memories of the front, there is a certain spark to him that refuses to back down.

Though The Road Back gives the feeling that civilians didn't learn anything from the war, the epilogue even shows a bunch of children just a few years shy of drafting playing war games under the direction of adults, it ends on a brighter note than All Quiet on the Western Front. Ernst realizes that his road is going to be long, painful, and most likely traveled alone. He might never get back to the way he was before the war, but he's going to try.

And I really like that hope that All Quiet never gave. Ernst is a broken man who has trouble fitting into society, but he still fights for what he believes in. He still hopes. He's not beyond repair.

Remarque writes at the start of the All Quiet on the Western Front that:

"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war."

The Road Back shows us that what has been destroyed can still be salvaged, and perhaps with time, restored to what it was.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Promise Made with a Series

I finished rereading a much loved book from my middle school/high school years. It's book 3 in a seven book series (and no, it's not Harry Potter, I'm not that young), and the series had been designed from the start to be exactly seven books. None of this extending the series because it's popular or because each novel is a stand alone deal. It was intended to be seven books. No more, no less.

I really liked the third book because it took the series to another level. It was the dark turning point where the stakes were raised and ancestral enemies realize they might not be enemies at all. And I fell in love with one of the periphery characters introduced in the book. He had to grow up fast and became a tragic character by the end. I think I may have cried the first time I read the ending.

After that, I was very bright-eyed and optimistic about the series, and while books 4 and 5 never quite peaked as high as book 3 with me, they were solid. Then something happened with books 6 and 7.

Without going into specifics, the spelling of my favorite character's name in book 3 was changed by one letter. Not much, but it certainly threw me off. The prophecy from book 3 never came back again (despite being a huge deal in that book) and my favorite character didn't do much of anything except act like a talking piece of furniture (and he'd been the one the prophecy was about).

There were other issues too. Some minor. Some big enough that one could drive a truck through. The implied gender of a character's child was swapped between books. And even within the same book an implausibility happens that makes sense on an initial read (while the main characters and the reader don't know better), but fails once a certain character is revealed. Astute readers will catch it on the first read and check back a few chapters to see if the events leading up to the reveal make still sense. I remember I did (and they don't).

I still appreciate the series for its characters and fine world building, but finishing it bothered me as a high school reader because I thought someone would have planned the whole thing out from start to finish, since it was known from the beginning that it would be a seven book series. I felt like the tail end of the series had been phoned in, nobody cared anymore. Or, the series really had not been planned as well as I thought it was, and so the series had been wrapped up as neatly as possible given the circumstances.

There's probably a reason behind the ending sagging that I'm not aware of. But as that high school kid, I was really disappointed. I was promised awesome sauce all the way up through the fifth book, and I got middling sauce by the end. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good, and felt worse because it wasn't awesome.

When I think of the most popular seven book series of today, when I think of Harry Potter, I realize that whatever I may think of Rowling's prose, I respect her ability to write a plot. She might have added and subtracted things behind the scenes that the reader never knew, but what was laid down made sense and I didn't feel any promises betrayed.

I've never written a long book series, but this is something I want to keep in mind for when or if I do.