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Last Thursday Review: Silence Fallen and Etched in Bone

So this month is a little special, in that I will be tackling two novels for review. Am I feeling a bit guilty for only reviewing a 40 page graphic novel last month, and trying to make up for that? Nope. I just happened to be lucky enough to have two novels  was waiting for come out on exactly the same day. It was like finding that health vile hidden in the corner of the room when you were just 1 HP away from “Game Over” when you saved the file for hours. So this month I will be presenting Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs, and Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop. Two sides of a similar coin when it comes to alternate modern world fiction.

As always, I will preface the review with a mild spoiler warning; I will do my very best to keep the juicy bits of the story under wraps, and I will try to avoid speaking too much about plot. If you are like me and enjoy jumping blindly into the rad and letting the twists and turns take you where they will, hopefully this will give you a sense of what you are in for without giving away anything much. If you want to be cautious and save absolutely everything but what you read on the book jacket for your own discovery, I won’t be hurt if you stop reading right this instant, just keep me in mind and come back after you’ve read the book (We could have a tete-a-tete about the finer points, I am absolutely certain.)

SILENCE FALLEN by PATRICIA BRIGGS (4.5 out of 5)

Silence Fallen is the 10th instalment in the Mercedes Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs, an epic bard of the urban fantasy genre. We have followed Mercedes, our Mercy, through thick and thin. From the military abductions and experimentation, to the vest uncertainty that is Underhill, she has led us on quite a journey. This time, we see Mercy further from home than we’ve ever seen her. Patricia’s delving into the actual past in this story, into the Old World of Europe and the even older things that inhabit it, reminds me a bit of the whimsy created by Kevin Hearne in The Iron Druid Chronicles, when Atticus ventures through Europe (thinking specifically the sort of romantic atmosphere he created when he spoke of the Polish Witch Coven).

Briggs’ approach to this novel is quite interesting; as always we read Mercy in her own voice, experience everything through her eyes. However, in order to tell the diverging stories, this time she also had to split her party. While we do not experience the story as Adam in the “I” voice, we still decidedly see what he experiences through his eyes, though somewhat less reliably than Mercy. This has to do with the of first person for Mercy, while staying with third person when speaking of Adam and his entourage.

Briggs had taken us through the gamut of the creatures in her world; we’ve been inside the wolf pack, as well as outside of it, with and against the Fae and the Grey Lords, and surrounded by Vampires (Who honestly play the longest game ever, no one ever really seems to be able to determine which side they will fall on, just that it had best benefit them). This time, after the events in Fire Touched, we finally see  a larger united front, a true ‘adventuring party’, where a little bit of everything comes together. The Fae are relegated to a less central role in this story. This could have either been a conscious choice, as the last novel focused so strongly on them, or a side effect of moving the story to Europe, which Briggs has established, since the beginning of the story, as a place that is virtually void of Fae, since the creation of Cold iron and the need to hide the magic.

As far as Silence Fallen goes, I feel that it delivers exactly what I have come to expect from a Mercy novel, with the same sort of addictive quality that makes Briggs’ books so difficult to put down once you start reading. She does this all while introducing us to a new host of characters. We meet some of Europe’s movers and shakers, people that Bran left behind when he came to the new world. Libor  and the Vltava Pack in Prague, Bonarata and the Vampires of Italy, and some very interesting ghosts, just to name a few. As always, Mercy manages to stumble into more trouble than initially would have come her way, all while mostly being able to take care of herself . We also see the return of one of my favourite small characters, Elizaveta, the Russian Witch. Honestly, I would absolutely love it if Briggs gave us a book just about the live and experiences of Elizaveta. She is a little bit grandmother like, but also steel and unforgiving power. If Briggs had not already brought us the Baba Yaga before, I would almost be strongly inclined to think Elizaveta was hiding something else.

There were a few points of minor confusion, either because I missed some tiny clue or a switch occurred that wasn’t entirely explained. After it happened it did make me look back over the previous passages to see if I could spot what it was, but I was still unable to put my finger on the reality of it. I won’t speak to much more on that point though, because I don’t want to venture too far into speaking of plot points.

So, overall, Silence Fallen earns a very strong 4.5 Stars from me. Maybe I am biased, in that I have read this series since the initial release, and wait on the edge of my seat for a new addition to the series (Sometimes with barely contained glee and excitement when the preview chapter goes up online). It’s release also came at a hard time, as the author unexpectedly lost her husband just weeks before the release. So it may be some time before we return to Mercy, the werewolves, and our other ‘friends who may or may not like to eat us’, but I will wait patiently for that day.

ETCHED IN BONE by ANNE BISHOP (3.5 out of 5)

Coming off the excitement that was Visions in Silver, Etched in Bone left me a little wanting for content. Where Visions in Silver felt like a massive leaping point for change, Etched in Bone felt  a bit lacking, a lull in an otherwise usually very exciting world. As the 5th book in the series, it may just be that the author is trying to tie up some ends, to give the reader bits and pieces more on things she had hinted at before.

As far as the story goes, it seems to drag a little bit in this book. There is some stagnation, and some contrived “thriller” elements that are somewhat predictable. I have really enjoyed this world before, and was excited to see where it was going, especially after the world remembered what threat was right outside their doors, that didn’t really need them to survive. Our larger world had shrunk down to basically just the courtyard and a few other areas. For a novel series that held a strong, wanting to be independent character at its centre, we actually spend fairly little time with Meg this time around, and even less time in the Liaison office. Was this sacrificed in order to create the tension between members of the human pack, so that the Others and the Elders could see small-scale power struggles instead of just large-scale events? Either way, there is a decided lack of threat and colour in this one. The baddie is exactly who you expect, and he does exactly what you expect. Bishop may even go slightly too far in order to paint him like a stereotypical baddie, lacking the subtlety that would have worked to help emphasise the ease with which a human can compromise the herd for the benefit of the self.

Meg and Simon are exactly as you would expect, and Bishop does not elevate the level of sexual tension between them, though there is a decided focus on their relationship (As there has been from the beginning); all in all, the characters are just as they have been, perhaps with a little bit more struggle on Meg’s part, and a little bit more confusion on Simon’s. Perhaps we even spent more time with the fully human element than ever before, as they try to deal with the lack of a face for the Humans First Movement, while still suffering and dealing with the consequences wrought back those actions. It is like they are walking a line, somewhere between cohabitation and beneficial relationships, and everything just falling apart, back to how it was before. We do see a decided return to the “Other” portion of the others, as they try to deal with things in ways that even they are unaccustomed to (Focused on a single target threat, rather than a whole score of adversaries).

In my opinion, the real moment of true build up also fell a little flat, or maybe, just a little too ‘human’? The anticipation and build up did not lead the expected impact, and it felt perhaps just a little rushed for what it was.

Possibly the greatest piece of growth in the whole story comes from Skippy, as he pushes to be part of the group despite his difficulties. In this, we also get a closer look at Ms Twyla, Crispin Montgomery’s mother, who turns out to seem much more wolf mother anything else, as she somehow seems to hold the fort and make the stands where others are unable to (At times, it even seems like she outranks Simon). Personally, I was moved by Skippy’s advancement as a character, maybe because his innocence reminds me of that innocence that was so integral in Sam, when Meg first worked him out of his shell.

As much as it pains me to say it, this may be the logical point to end the series, as I cannot see another crescendo to large action, and what follows might just be too close a resemblance to wish fulfilment and fan fiction, unless this was just a piece that was necessary to bridge one larger event to another, in which case it may have served just to tie some ends together for the readers before launching them towards something new in the world. The biggest threats within the human world have largely been dealt with (though Bishop keeps hinting at another larger threat coming to the Blood Prophets, there was only a very small build toward it in this instalment).

Over all, I would give Anne Bishop’s Etched in Bone a 3.5 out of 5. I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as the first 4 novels in this series, and most certainly not as much as Silence Fallen, but I can’t deny the fact that I still had trouble putting it down, as I read it in hopes that something grand would happen. If this was not the end of the series, I hope that the next novel is a massively moving piece of fiction, willed with the tension and excitement that the series started out with. 

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Publication news!

So, it has been a considerable amount of time since my last post. Life has been a little busy, and I have let a few things fall by the wayside. However, there is exciting news. Quite some time ago I answered a call for entries for a new encyclopedia, focused wholly on amassing information and entries pertaining to Japanese horror cinema. The process was both educational and quite fun, considering it was absolutely right up my alley.

The initial research was a bit painstaking, as it took some time to find the various films and individuals who I chose for my entries (of course, these all came from a pre-established list set forth by the volume editor). With the media in hand, I set out to do my research, watching the films and doing my best to capture the themes, plot, and vital information that would be important to crafting my entries.

As with these things, there was a lot of down time between submission and review, but as of August 15th, 2016 (tomorrow, very exciting), this collection will be released.

In others words, I have been published alongside some of the more known names in the area of  Japanese popular culture and film studies (Like Jay McRoy, Jim Harper, Jeffrey Bullins, Joanne Bernardi, etc.)

It is really a remarkable collection of information. My particular entries focused on Actor, director, and icon Izumiya Shigeru, The Guinea Pig CollectionNoroi (2005), and Death Powder (1986).

9781442261662

The Encyclopedia of Japanese Horror Films

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Forming the Formless: A reflection on my difficulties and experiences in writing.

Like the gait of a newborn foal,

my rhymes roll out at an awkward pace.

Trapped somewhere between my mind and my lips,

they are lost in the cracks between spaces.

I lose time thinking about thinking,

Wondering if there is even an inkling of success in my endeavours.

Late nights spent forgetting the words to my own visions,

Tripping over the rhythm of the endless flow of thought,

Ultimately left fighting against the tide of my own doubt,

with words spilling out without form.

One idea becomes the next, becomes the next,

and continues to topple away from the beginning,

Until all that is left is the vexation of wondering where everything will end,

And in ending, if it will make sense or defy the trend of going nowhere.

I have always had a problem with endings; I don’t like them. They are too final, too anti-climatic, and too pessimistic in my view. Nothing is ever really finished, especially when it comes to writing or learning. You may have reached a conclusion in the plot line structure, but it does not mean that what you have is written in stone. Sometimes endings are too difficult to face, especially when you have invested yourself into a project. Yes, endings can be rewarding, but sometimes we just are not quite ready for them, and it leads us to tear everything back down, and to start again, until we become so caught up in the tearing down and the rebuilding that we forget what it was we set out to do in the beginning. Does this piece work here, or should I move it to another section? Is this really what I want to happen in this situation, or do I want to see how it would work out if I changed that part way back in the middle? Do these bits come together properly, or are they just mashed together for the sake of having them be like that? Where is the flow, and how do I keep it from hitting a wall? Does any of this make sense to anyone else? Inevitable, these are ideas and problems that writers, students, and academics face in everything they do. Fiction and non-fiction require the same attention to detail, require the same creative and personal investment of time, effort, and emotion, or they inevitable fail to satisfy.

Writing is something that I have been doing for a very long time, in a variety of ways; when I was 13 and in 8th grade I started writing what I called ‘a novel’. It was a lofty goal, even for a 13-year-old or, within reason, especially for a 13-year-old. The plot was contrived, the characters 2-dimensional, the names of characters and places cringe-worthy and inducing. Nevertheless, I ‘finished’ that great work, and set it aside, where I left it for years, for the most part. The closest that work ever got to ‘public viewing’ was when I shared it with a very close group of friends. Affectionately it came to be known as “Prologue”, and said friends may or may not still have their copies just waiting to be giggled over. From my own ‘novel’, I did what many young girls do and branches off into both poetry and fan-fiction (something that will be mentioned, but left alone; we’ve all dabbled, even if it was only in our heads to pass the time). I stuck with the poetry, and have amassed quite a collection, ranging from the naive and typical first attempts to some much more developed pieces, experimenting with style, scheme, and format. Poetry is still something that I return to when the inspiration strikes me, something that I once thought of pursuing professionally, but instead decided to keep as a hobby.

In High School, I branched out yet again, dabbling in short stories, plays, more poetry, historical fiction, fantasy, noir, horror and a variety of other ideas. Some of these pieces are still quite dear to me, and I return to them with new ideas on how to improve them, how to adapt and update them, and how to keep them alive. However, I have always suffered from the inability to finish; I become so attached to something that I am working on, and so invested in its worth, that I am unable to let it go because I still don’t see it as being complete, even if for all intents and purposes it has come to a conclusion. Every essay I submitted as an undergraduate, every project I worked on and showed, every paper I presented in conference, were all works-in-progress. Even now, having completed my first post-graduate degree, I still look back on essays and find ways to improve them, ways to make them flow more fluidly, to present the points more clearly, to bring out the importance of the evidence more succinctly. Likewise, I have started more stories than I can begin to count; I have notebooks filled with ideas, characters, plots, maps, and research, and often keep a fresh one on hand no matter where it is I find myself, because the most obscure or frivolous thing can set off an idea that has the potential to change everything.

This brings me to the meat of my future plans for this blog, now that I have completed another milestone on my life journey. While I am actively applying for PhD programs, determining what it is I will focus on, where it is I will do my work and continue my studies, and who I will look to in an advisory capacity, I hope to re-ignite my creative writing, while honing my academic skills. What this means for this blog is as follows: in the coming months I hope to revise some of my post short stories and creative pieces, and present them to a wider audience (this is where you come in). At the same time, I am going to put forward articles of a more scholarly nature (non-journal worthy due to the fact that they are short pieces rather than longer completed research), begin a series of exploratory research reflections on topics that interest me outside of my major academic focus (which is a rather narrow focus and relatively new when it comes to Western scholarship focus), and of course reviews whenever I feel that something I have read is either worth the attention of others or worthy of being avoided at all costs. I hope that this plan will help to keep this blog alive, to engage with my skills on a personal and professional footing, and to, hopefully, provide you with something insightful, thought-provoking, amusing, enchanting, or entertaining.

To keep with this, I have started working on a revision of a piece I created over 12 years ago. It will be a week or two before it is through a satisfactory revision, and at that time I will provide both the latest version, and the very first iteration of the piece. It is a bit of an absurdist social/environmental commentary, with what I hope is a darkly humorous twist. So, with that, I ask that you stay tuned for “Fuzzy Pants, Trench Coats, and Other Strange Things” (Title subject to change, though for now I will stick with the original title).

For those of you wondering exactly where I plan to take this all in the near future, here is a list of some ideas that i have been working on, or planning to work on, in the coming months:

  • Scott Pilgrim: A Love Story for our not-so-tragic Canadian Sensibilities.
  • An untitled piece of Silent Hill Revelations
  • A short story from the “Veil of Shadows” world
  • New Television: A reflection on the increasing interest in the macabre as prime-time entertainment instead of niche counter-culture movement.
  • Untitled improv creative writing session set to a random playlist.
  • Locke and Key: Imagination and the Other World of childhood.
  • A short story from the Trish universe, or a chapter from a larger work within that world.
  • Percy Jackson and Xena: re-inventing Greek Myth for new generations.
  • More poetry (both old and new)
  • Some lore pieces behind some of my larger story and world ideas.
  • Untitled piece on Miyazaki’s films (Spirited Away)
  • A short piece on classic Japanese films.
  • Serial Killers and their victims (there are a few that merit a bit more historical attention, without the spin of Hollywood attached), with shows like Criminal minds around we need to remember that these individuals are products of human existence and our ability to commit evil, not just of the society or culture they belong to.
  • Why Cordelia Chase is that mean high school girl we all secretly love.
  • The Undergraduate Essay: Tips and Tricks to avoid the pitfalls of a poor essay.

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A Roleplayer’s Guide to Roleplaying, or “What I learnt from being countless other people.”

I have been the mage rolling in dragon’s blood to see if it had magical properties. I have been the druid who was upset that her overly large dire wolf companion was not permitted in the local tavern due to civilian panic. I have been married to a paranoid space archer, hunted across galaxies, and set adrift in time. I have been the villainous duke, sacrificing his people to gain power from the dark gods, and I have been the werewolf so old that he has lost his mind to the animal hunger. I have been the re-awakened vampire priestess, and the valiant heroine trying to protect her city. I have saved cities, dimensions, timelines, and gods. I have killed friends, prophets, and commoners alike. Like readers, role-players and Storytellers/Game Masters/ Dungeon Masters experience hundreds of different lives, while still only living inside their own skin.

So, it’s no secret that I have been involved with roleplaying groups for quite some time, at least 14 years to be exact (Give or take a few days, or hours, I can’t really remember). These experiences have varied; from forum and group posting, nightly chat room meetings (when it was still possible to find a chat room filled with decent people who wanted to actually write), to tabletop gaming and LARPing, I have had my hand in many posts when it comes to playing out characters and writing stories cooperatively. Roleplaying was when I really got my start in creative writing; I started my experience around the same time I tried to write my first ‘novel’ which, looking back on now, was a pretty cringe worthy endeavour for a 13-year-old. I like to think that roleplaying and writing in a co-operative fashion has helped to shape me not only as a creative individual, but as a person who is able to work well with others. I think it compliments my experience as a reader, and helps to broaden my understanding of people and the world.

Over the years I have seen online roleplaying evolve; from chat rooms to forums, from forums to social networking sites, and finally to tumblr and other such creative outlets. Let me be honest here; I don’t really understand how tumblr works on the best of days, but it is still a pretty decent tool for finding skilled writers and people to bounce creative ideas off. These early writing and roleplaying experiences opened the doors for me, and got me interested in games like Dungeons and Dragons and World of Darkness, where co-operative story telling is central to making a great game.

Through all of these experiences, I’ve learned a few lessons and tricks, both as a DM/GM and as a player. What I want to do for you now, is lay out some of those elements. Maybe you have been roleplaying and writing for years, or maybe you are just getting involved, but these lessons and tricks may help you out, or you may just nod along and agree based on your own experience.

-“It’s not a story line, it’s a story maze.”-

As a Dungeon Master or Game Master, it is our duty to set the scene, to hook our players, and to set them on a path to adventure and fun. As a co-operative writer, it is out duty to work out the general direction in which we want to begin writing. Both of these require an infinite amount if creativity, patience, and a willingness to put in long hours of thought. The absolute worse thing that you can do in either situation is to railroad. Yes, having a goal in mind and milestones set up are excellent, but you don’t want to limit the ways in which your co-writers or party can choose to get there. I’ve always been fond of the “story arc” over the “store line”, as it implies that there is a certain build as you progress. I’d like to push this further and say that there is a “story maze”. What I mean by this is that you have a fixed beginning, a fixed middle, and a fixed end point, but the ways in which the party or partner can arrive at these key story points are not reduced to a single line of progression. Have side events ready, little moments that offer some fun and experience, some sort of reward. Don’t try to force your single agenda or story, no matter how amazing it is (or you think it is). Be willing to let the party and your partner find their own way to those moments. Yes, there will be intersections that they cannot avoid, and you can leave them hints and clues that will lead them back if they start to stray too far, but don’t yank on the leash and choke them when they want to explore. Likewise, don’t make the maze insanely devious or daunting, or else they will get completely lost in the foliage and you will all forget the goal. make the maze interesting, and keep the walls just above eye level, so they are still surprised when they do get where you want them to go.

-“If you say no, you’re closing doors. Be fluid, be free, and be ready to fly by the seat of your pants”-

Just like railroading a story, saying no to your party and your partner can lead to some very heated conflicts. Like in improv, saying “no, we aren’t doing that,” is like denying the creative imput. Remember, you are not trying to work against your party or partner, even if you are playing the villain. If your partner or party decide to try some solution to a problem, but it’s not EXACTLY how you would have solved it, don’t discredit their effort. Instead, take a step back and think if that effort would have logically worked, even if it was as insane as charging on to a field of battling ogres covered in dragon’s blood and dancing in order to distract them to buy the civilians time to escape. It may not be YOUR ideal solution, but that does not mean that it can’t work. Who knows, it may become one of the best moments among the party or between you and your partner, and open new doors that you hadn’t even thought of when it comes to how the story can progress.

-“Discussion, both in character and as players, is a key to keeping it fun.”-

This may not apply so much to the DM/GM situation, but it is a valuable tool. While having subtle characters is excellent, having no clue what any of your party members are actually doing can be a major issue. In group forum and one-on-one writing I like to call this the OOC (Out of Character) discussion. While you have an agenda in your writing and for your character, being 100% obscure and non-communicative has one of two outcomes: your character is evil and it comes as no surprise when they betray the rest of the party, or you end up having absolutely no fun because your major concern is keeping everyone else rom knowing anything about what is going on. Take the time with your group or your partner to find out what it is they want to accomplish, what it is they are looking to gain from playing a given character, and incorporate those goals into your own goals. All players should be able to be involved, both in character and out of character, in taking the story in certain directions. This is a bit more level when there are only two people involved in the co-operative writing, but it is useful in the party environment as well. It keeps everyone involved and feeling as though they are really contributing to the eventual outcome of the story. There is nothing worse than having created an amazing character, only to have them turn out to be a faceless pawn, dwarfed by the desires of a single person.

-“No one likes a god-moder!”-

God-moding, meta gaming, Mary Sue-ing. All of these imply the worst case scenario for the creative and dedicated role player. It implies the creation of a character who has, among other things, uncannily powerful abilities (that surpass all others and are even better than what they should normally be. Think of it like an over-powered house rule spell of magic missile . . . where that missile is not only heat seeking, but nuclear powered and able to pass through solid walls until it hits the target.) This applies to players and DM/GM’s alike. No one is untouchable, even if they are “the ultimate good” or the looming “big bad.” You cannot control the actions of your party like you would a puppet, even if you are the master puppeteer. You can only influence. Please, don’t god mode, as it drags everyone down when they don’t get to play their role because someone else is already “on it because I once found a scroll of +10 to any skill I wanted and I’ve saved it for this very moment,” or because it seems like their actions have absolutely no influence on the progression of the story or the outcome of events. In canon written role-play, these are often the “OC/ Original Characters” who suddenly appear on the scene and seem to know exactly what is going on, exactly want needs to be done, and trump the most powerful characters in the given canon universe. I hate to sound like  a broken record, but please, no god-moding. It takes all the fun out of roleplaying for everyone except the god-moder.

-“Be creative, but keep the game mechanics in mind!”-

There is nothing quite like roleplaying and roleplaying games to bring out the most creative crazy ideas in people. All of this, of course, can’t work if you don’t seriously consider game mechanics. They are there for a reason! Your clerics and paladins should be behaving in certain ways, and the threat of the removal of divine (good or evil) powers should not be tossed out the window. It should not be done lightly, but it should always be in the back of these character’s minds. Just like you can’t have a ranger or druid slaughtering innocent forest animals for no reason, you also can’t have alignments and builds that truly violate the carefully established game mechanics. Yes, there is an element of creativity, but there are some of these elements that can severely handicap a GM/DM in their ability to create a story and keep everything functioning. Say you wanted to be a necromancer, but you wanted to be”good” aligned. While and interesting dynamic, it would drastically alter how a GM/DM structures their story, especially if there are divine elements at play in their larger plot. If you want to be a good aligned Necromancer, you have to keep in mind that there are other good and neutral aligned characters, likely in your party, who would be duty bound to kill you for violating the sanctity of life and death, not because they dislike you, but because it is integral to how their character mechanics work.

This mostly has to do with party games, so to relate it to forum posting is a bit more difficult. I would say the equivalent is respecting limits set by characters, and playing canon characters with at least a comparable level of understanding for who they have been written. Hermione Granger should be intelligent and stubborn; Rogue should have major issues with trust and letting people in. Be true to the personality, no matter what story parameters change. This goes double for one on one role-playing. Just because you are writing with a partner, don’t assume that your characters are immediately going to click. Let the connections work themselves out.

-“Be well rounded, like that giant boulder in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”-

Yes, we all love combat, and yes, we all also love loot. However, doing nothing but killing monsters and tackling long session of combat can get really boring. Just like a “monster of the week” progression, repeated the same thing over and over can get tiring and de-motivational for players. There are more ways to earn experience and to progress as a character than through combat alone. Give your partner or players things to think about, mysterious to work out, riddles to solve, personal troubles to deal with. This is were back story can come in handy. Whether you are the GM/Dm, or the co-writer in a one-on-one session, have your counterpart(s) come up with a back story for their characters. If you are playing canon characters, see if there are things your partner would like to work in, to round out their characters. Once those are established, find ways to work them in to the storytelling experience. Not only will it help keep the roleplay from becoming monotonous, but it will also be a way to make sure that they are invested in the story and in their character. It will also help to keep things rolling and prevent things rom falling flat and coming to a complete halt. I like to use riddles, word puzzles, and guide my players to explore their interests through their characters, or to explore their characters interests through the world. I’ve seen this result in hilarious side adventures and stories that help to make characters more real: ever wanted to be worshipped like  a god by a backwards village? or, maybe you’ve been wanting to join a guild, but just can’t manage to carry that oddly bloody bag of cabbages past the doorman? Puzzles and roleplaying are key to helping the experience become something memorable.

In writing and story driven versus experience gaining stories, this can be related to adding in another genre; sure, you want slice of life, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t weave in elements of intrigue, suspense, mystery, or even horror. This will all depend on the partner/party dynamic, but there are so many choices that they are, quite literally, almost endless options.

-“Being evil is fun.”-

There is nothing quite the same as feeling the power you get to wield as the adversary. Having the chance to pay the “evil” (subjective to campaign, as we all know, so instead of “evil”, lets just call them the antagonist) role is the cherry on top of the perfect sunday. It is not an easy role, but it comes with a lot of really nifty benefits. However, you have to remember that you are not playing AGAINST everyone else; there is nothing in it for you if you destroy your party or your partner every time, and they will become angry and dispassionate about continuing. Instead, you want to offer a challenge to the protagonists; in most cases, you are playing on both sides of the line when you take on the role of the antagonist. This character is a tool through which you can guide and build up for party or partner, it is one of the major simmering points that will help you boil the story up to its penultimate moments. Your antagonist should not be all-powerful (even if they are a god), and they should not be untouchable. Unlike Descent (Fantasy Flight, thank you for this game, but it is frustrating to lose, both as a player and as the overlord), you gain nothing from making your party or partner lose every encounter. At the same time, you don’t want them to just be able to walk over your key antagonistic figures. There is a very fine balance between playing a great antagonist, and either playing an overarching tyrant or an underpowered pushover. This has by far been the hardest part about roleplaying for me, and the writing which I struggled with the most. Ultimately, you have to find a way to feel as if you are succeeding when your players and partners surmount your challenges, rather than looking at it like a lose for yourself. most of all, you have to learn to enjoy the dark side, or it will become tedious to keep coming up with new flavours and encounters to keep both you and your party invested in the experience.

-“Not everything will work for every body. Be open to constructive criticism.”-

It’s not great to hear, but sometimes we are not perfect. Writer, Player, or GM/DM, you have to be open to constructive criticism. It might seem like an attack on your ability, but if you listen, it can help you grow not only as a player, but as a creative talent. There is the saying “give me the grace to accept what I cannot change” . . . or something like that; in roleplaying, you have to opportunity to adjust and change those things that don’t work in your style, in your skill. Take them. This can do hand in hand with the railroading story. Listen to what your players and partners want when things seem to hit a wall and, barring extreme cases, you can most certainly find a way to work things out, no matter what role you are playing. Be willing to adapt and consider change, it is the best way to deal with these kinds of problems. No one gains from talking or playing against a brick wall, so be aware!

On the other side, if you are writing with a partner or for a party, and no matter what you do you just don’t seem to be meshing on any level, you CAN say so. Talk about what issues you are having, where you think improvement could be made, and be willing to be told the same things that you tell others. The best thing you can do is incorporate the changes, and come back. You don’t have to cater to everyone, but you do have to make sure that everyone can get on the same level, even if that means you need to step up your own game!

-“When in doubt, puzzle it out.”-

If you are having difficulties, either with the story or your character, you have the ability to take a step back and re-evaluate your approach. You may not be able to reallocate ability scores or skill points, but you can figure out a way to make those factors work FOR you, instead of against you. It’s like having a social rogue character with really high scores to diplomacy, intimidate, and bluff, but as a person having a hard time making those come across in your in-character roleplaying. You as a person may be absolutely horrid at diplomatic interactions, or crafting a foolproof lie ( My social rogue couldn’t bluff for the life of her, even though she had a score somewhere in the 30s. Notoriously she attempted to pass herself off as ‘Room service; cleaning and incineration’ when attempting to sneak in through the back doors of one of the outer levels of Hell.) It’s all about finding a way to have fun, and to make the skills you want your character to have work for your playing style. If you are not having fun with your skills or your character, you need to openly talk about it with you DM/GM or your partner, and see what kind of agreement you can come to in order to make your experience fun. This type of game and writing it all about figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and how to navigate the churning seas that lie between your imagination and the game itself.

Antoine de St Exupery

Antoine de St Exupery

Roleplay is where we get to explore not only the action and adventure, but the inner thought process of our characters. It’s not about having all the cool powers and gadgets (thought those are always fun), but it’s about making your writing partners see the inner character, the subtle nuance behind the choices and the action. It’s about giving them some emotional connection to you, beyond just the fact that your characters live in the same world and happen to travel in the same circles.

Above all, and I mean this, you need to be having fun! If you are not having fun, as a player, a partner, a Game Master, etc., then you need to address the issue. If you aren’t having fun, the other people you play with are going to notice, and it is going to colour the experience for them as well. Sometimes it means you need to step back and take a break to reevaluate your interest in playing. Sometimes it means you’ve fallen into a rut and you need to break some habits that have become unconscious inclusion. Most of all, it means that something isn’t going to way it is supposed to. Even if your characters are in the most dire situations, if you are not invested, if you are NOT having fun, YOU need to speak up!

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Broadway Loses another Bright Light

RIP Elaine Stritch, one of the most amazing Broadway stars to have ever graced the New York stage. Her talent was amazing, is still amazing, and will continue to inspire. If you have not heard her speak, listened to her sing, or laughed at her acerbic wit, you have missed out. When I started to get really interested in Musical theatre, a New York voice coach (who happened to come and do a two week course on voice and song at my University) showed us a clip of Elaine Stritch, and in that moment I became determined that, no matter how unlikely it was that I would ever make it on stage, I would at last aim to have half as much poise and commitment as Elaine did in everything I decided to do.

Do yourself a favour an youtube some of her best songs, like Zip from Pal Joey,

or The Ladies who Lunch from Company.

If you can, sit down and watch or listen to her one women autobiographical show “Elaine Stritch Live at Liberty”.

2011 Interview from CUNY Theater Talk

2013 Interview from CUNY Theater Talk

Another star has dimmed, but her light will continue to shine on.

Thank you Elaine, for being you.

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Little Revenge for the Devil: Review of Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger

Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns

2013 Lauren Weisberger

2013 Lauren Weisberger

Authour: Lauren Weisberger

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Release Date: June 4th 2013

Pages: 381

Rating: 3 out of 5

Review

As a fantasy, horror and murder mystery fan, I will admit that Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada was a guilty indulgence for me when I first picked it up years ago. At the time there was something I dearly loved about the ruthless and cold Miranda Priestly that I simply could not put into words; she was a woman who you loved to hate, and yet I respected her, not for her manners or sense, but because she was unapologetic in her self-interest. When I saw Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns sitting on the new release shelf at my local book retailer, I didn’t even have to think twice about the financial setback that a hardcover book would present to me (Word to the wise, if you shop Indigo or Amazon and want to check this out after my review, it’s on a nice sale right now until midnight Sunday). I purchased it and happily picked up my hazelnut macchiato with soy before settling in to begin my read.

So, admitting that I loved reading The Devil Wears Prada a few years ago, and that I even enjoyed the film (Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway made an excellent on-screen pair, and despite the changes to make Miranda seem more sympathetic to the audience I still found myself enjoying it as an indulgence), I found that Revenge Wears Prada left me feeling a bit let down. It has remnants of the amazing flare that Weisberger used in The Devil Wears Prada, but did not quite return to the power of the original, it was skeletal at best, and familiar names did not carry the same verge and sparkle as they did before, and new characters did not carry the loving, or hating, flare that Weisberger gave us previously. For a book with the word “Revenge” so prominently in the title there is very little actual revenge which takes place, and even our love-to-hate Miranda as the Devil is only smattered briefly in a few chapters, more of a peripheral character then an actual source of antagonistic grief that one would hope for when picking up a sequel. I felt that the story was a pale attempt to return to something that was marvellous, and simply could not recreate the same feelings or connections that the first book did.

We catch up with Andrea Sachs, Andy, 10 years after her infamous blow-up with Runway Magazine and her storming departure from Paris Fashion Week, and amazingly powerful “Fuck you” to the sociopathic tyrant that is Miranda Priestly. Things has been both good and bad for our protagonist; while she suffered some set backs out of the gate, including some rather spectacular job related PTSD, she has found a man she loves, Max Harrison, mended the fence with her old Runway nemesis, Emily, and made a wonderfully successful business venture into the realm of bridal coverage.  Despite the title of the book, the plot is rather predictable, and events can be seen pages in advance if the reader is paying attention. In addition, there is very little “devil” featured from chapter to chapter, and even then it vacillates to such an extent that Miranda Priestly’s cold-hearted and egotistical self-interest driven life almost seems to be suffering from a personality disorder, or perhaps a rather selective and well-coordinated type of Manic Depression; one interaction our devil seems completely human, and the next second she is a cold bitch who could freeze hell over with so much as a well placed dismissal.  I will say it again, for a book with the word Revenge featured so prominently, there is very little, if any, sense of vengeance throughout the novel.

It follows a highly predictable plot arc, has its moments of cleverness, but ultimately falls short of my expectations. As much as I enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada, I only felt middling attachment as I continued to read Revenge Wears Prada (Fashion actually features almost not at all in the entire book, and our visits with it are hardly as magnificent as they were in the previous encounter.) While it’s excellent for well liked, and hated, character to return to us in familiar forms, they seems hollow and little changed over the 10 years that Weisberger has given them to mature and change. Inevitably, I think perhaps a better title may have been “Predictable Betrayal Wears Prada.” If you are looking for an easy read to occupy some time, I wouldn’t turn you completely away from picking up Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns, but I would warn you to not expect the same level of emotional attachment or engagement as you experienced with The Devil Wears Prada. At only 381 pages, (or 8 hours to read if one has little else to do but procrastinate from writing an important thesis), it is not a huge investment for time, and it does have its moments of satisfaction, albeit that you will neither loathe nor adore anyone on any level of deep connection. I personally plan to revisit my copy of The Devil Wears Prada to see if my first experience of guilty pleasure with Miranda Priestly still holds true, despite the fact that Revenge provides so little of that juicy haute couture, cutting edge, ruthless business of fashion and editorial assistantships which had us all falling in love with New York, and in hatred with the Devil.

Unlike my first meeting with Miranda Priestly, this novel did not make me immediately regard my own way of dealing with success and people, nor did it make me regret the contents of my own closet in a jealous fit.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger

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Of Monsters and Beasts: Review of Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs (Spoiler Free)

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)

Author: Patricia Briggs

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs, 2013 Ace Fantasy

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs, 2013 Ace Fantasy

Publisher: Ace Fantasy

Year: 2013

Pages: 340

Rating: 5 out of 5

Forward: This is the 7th entry is a series. If you have not read the others and don’t wish to have any sort of up-to-this-point spoilers, I am going to lay this out for you right now: If you like Urban fantasy, want to read an engaging and well written series, start with Moon Called, the first entry under the Mercy Thompson books. You will enjoy it, I guarantee.

Book Cover Summary: Mercy’s life has undergone a seismic change. Becoming the mate of Adam Hauptman – the charismatic Alpha of the local werewolf pack – has made her a stepmother to his daughter, Jesse, a relationship that brings moments of blissful normalcy to Mercy’s life. But on the edges of humanity, what passes for a minor mishap on an ordinary day can turn into so much more . . .

After a car accident in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Mercy and Jesse can’t reach Adam – or anyone else in the pack, for that matter. They’ve all been abducted.

Through their mating bond, all Mercy knows is that Adam is angry and in pain. But she fears Adam’s disappearance may be related to the political battle the werewolves have been fighting to gain acceptance from the public – and that he and the pack are in serious danger. Outmatched and on her own Mercy may be forced to seek assistance from any ally she can get, no matter how unlikely.

REVIEW

Mercy Thompson, our wise cracking bad-lucked heroine, comes through in yet another instalment of Briggs’ widely liked series. The reader is re-acquainted with old friends, and enemies, and exposed to a whole new set of problems which further complicate her usually bumpy life. The daughter of Coyote is always finding herself in one sticky situation or another, and yet each time it seems fresh and beckons the reader to keep turning the pages, even into the wee hours of the morning.

Briggs’ provides equal measure between all four worlds she includes, meaning that the Fae, werewolves, vampires, and even the odd human fall into the tangled web. Brigg’s masterful way of working together first person insight and external characters is brought to the forefront, and she does not skip a beat of action, emotion, or darkness. As with the latest entry in the Alpha and Omega series, Fair Game, Briggs’ has added a darker twist to the story she presents her readers, looking not only at the preternatural dangers, but placing more weight on the danger posed by the ordinary mortal humans. Could this be a new spin, a new direction, that she is going to pursue? A solidarity between those things which go bump in the night, which enabled them to combat the humans, who are less able than the supernatural beasts when it comes to hiding their monstrous nature? Where do the real monsters dwell , among those who have no choice and do what they can to keep their animal natures under control, readily admitting to their faults, or in those who hide it behind a thin mask of civility and grotesque mockeries of humanity, unwilling to accept the mantel of responsibility for their actions?

This story picks up shortly after the events which unfolded in Fair Game, and I think it is a marvellous addition to the existing Mercy tales. It serves as a return to the concerns raised in the first Mercy novel, Moon Called, while still carrying the momentum which has built through the series, driving it to pursue a deeper development on the tenuous line between what it means to be a monster and what it means to be part of society.  Her attention to political and social upheaval, and the alienation of others based solely on the concept of ‘other’, sheds a poignant comment on the way in which modern society divides itself.

Once again, I simply could not seem to put this one down until I had completely finished reading it. I have come to expect a great deal from Patricia Briggs when it comes to style and quality of writing, and she once again delivers what she promises. The connection to the characters we have come to know is deepened with each encounter, and new understandings begin to emerge when old friends and enemies are re-examined. I have had some people tell me that they have problems with the repetitive ‘kidnapping’, yet each time it has come up (which I will admit is a few) it has not hindered the progress, but rather displayed that the affected characters have grown, and how their past experiences have shaped them. Writers would not return to tropes if it did not serve a purpose, and readers would not continue to follow if they felt that nothing was gained by the return. This is by no means a series wherein the reader is constantly forced to read the tried-and-true ‘damsel in distress’ tale; Briggs does not present the reader with any damsels, her characters are all strong in their own ways, which makes it highly pleasing to read. If anything, the return to the kidnapping theme reflects how the non-preternatual (perhaps a better term would be ‘mundane’) community has grown to become set in its ways for handling all things which it does not understand, or actively refuses to understand.

Without a doubt I can say that I will continue to read the Mercy Thompson series as long as Briggs is able to publish them, provided that her ability to craft characters, relationships, and interesting fantastical elements remains as elevated as it has. In all honest, I always find something new which intrigues me; a small detail about the Fae, the attention to the hierarchy among the vampires and the werewolves, and I am wound right back into a state of wonder at her ability to convey so much in such a short span of pages. Of all the names in urban fantasy, I know that if I am looking to truly enjoy a book filled with interesting character and well written story I will look to Briggs.

Patricia Briggs Official Website

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1)

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2)

Iron Kissed (Mercy Thompson #3)

Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson #4)

Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson #5)

River Marked (Mercy Thompson #6)

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)

Home Coming (Mercy Thompson Graphic novel)

Moon Called #1 (Trade Paperback graphic novel edition)

Moon Called #2 (Trade Paperback graphic novel edition)

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A Quick dissection of the full Season 3 trailer for Game of Thrones

Wow, I know I posted it last night, but I have watched the trailer a few more times now and have made some rather exciting discoveries. Let us simply say that it promises much of what we as readers, and those viewers who are truly attracted to the show, have been waiting for.

Here there be Spoilers for S3, A Sword of Storms and beyond.

“There’s a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in its hand.”

-Jorah Mormont

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Game of Thrones S. 3 Trailer

Here it is, our first full look at the upcoming season of Game of Thrones on HBO. George R.R. Martin’s epic dark fantasy tale of intrigue returns on March 31st. So set you clocks for the 9 PM (your local time zone) premiere, and get ready for blood and fire.

At this point, I would like to encourage discussion as to the promises of this season. Please, keep spoilers to a minimum, if you can (not for my sake of course, I know all that the public can possibly know at this point, and I have a good number of my own theories spinning about in my head.)

Are you looking forward to the Dragons? Are you giddy over the prospect of hearing High Valyrian?  Do you also wonder why Howland Reed seems perfectly fine with his children wandering around with supposed dead lordlings?

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February 22, 2013 · 11:17 pm

Moro and the Shishigami in Miyazaki’s Temporal War Epic Mononoke-hime

Art used with permission of artist: Sugar-H

Art used with permission of artist: Sugar-H

 

Moro and the Shishigami in Miyazaki’s Temporal War Epic Mononoke-hime

Copyright ©2012-2017, M. Negrych

In modern history, Japan has experienced a set of dynamic shifts in identity. The Meiji Restoration (1868) saw an internal thrust for modernization, and the resulting issues and social anxieties which emerged in the aftermath of the Pacific War persist into the present. With modernization there came the negotiation of the Japanese relationship with nature and its sacred past; was it possible to modernize the nation while still preserving the sacred environment? Hayao Miyazaki, one of Japan’s most loved and exported directors,1 negotiates this question in his whimsical and romantic style with Mononoke-hime (1997); the modern and the ancestral are in a proverbial battle royale, with nothing but a young man left to try and find a means to ensure the survival of both. Miyazaki creates a masterpiece which pits the past and the present against one another, with characters who are neither completely good nor absolutely evil, and the fate of a whole country rests on the shoulders of the youth.

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February 21, 2013 · 6:36 pm