Lots of Dresden Files stuff going on.

March 22, 2013

I’m on a Harry Dresden blitz at the moment. Let’s see, trying to take the list in some sort of logical order:

  • There’s only two weeks (minus a few hours,) until the Ad Astra 2013 convention kicks off in Toronto, with Jim Butcher as one of the guests of honor. I’m really excited to meet him and attend as many of his panels as I can, and a lot of the other items are about trying to get ready for Ad Astra.
  • I’ve been absorbing the Dresden Files novels on Audible at a fairly quick pace, for me at any rate. The marathon started about two months ago, Jan 13th, when I downloaded ‘Dead Beat’, the seventh in the series. I now have a little more than an hour to go in ‘Turn Coat’ (Dresden Files number eleven.) The plan is to finish the Audible version of #12, ‘Changes’, sometime in the week before Ad Astra, and get #13, “Ghost Story”, on Kindle, since that’s the one that has John Glover, not James Marsters, narrating the audiobook version. The Kindle will also be great for reading while I’m at the con.
  • Side note: If you’re catching up on the Dresden Files like me, you’re spoiler averse, and you haven’t already checked out the blurbs for #13 or #14, then don’t. As far as I can tell, there’s so many cliffhangers and plot twists at this point of the series that it’s impossible to tease what’s going on in one book without spoiling the one before. (Fortunately I don’t mind a few spoilers too much, myself 🙂 )
  • I’ve also picked up “Side Jobs”, the collection of Dresden-verse short fiction by Butcher, from the library, and read the first two pieces. It’s been fun so far, a different look at the characters and the world, and also a peek into the head of the author, since he’s written a short introduction to each one and explained the circumstances that prompted them; often an invitation to contribute something to an anthology run by somebody interesting. Read the rest of this entry »

New tech and building magic.

March 16, 2013

Well, I didn’t get as much done on editing as I’d hoped today, because a few other things ate up a lot of my time. First – new computer!





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What I’ve been reading lately, August 2012 edition…

August 3, 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve told you much about my reading, so here are some of the highlights from the last month and a half:

“Guards, Guards” by Terry Pratchett. I’ve been enjoying the Discworld books, and this was one that was specially recommended by Alastair on the Storywonk podcasts. I’m not sure if I found it as tight and well-done as “Mort”, but it was definitely a great outing on the Discworld, and I’m looking forward to reading the further adventures of the Ankh-Morpork Nightwatch. The footnotes were some of the best parts, and I enjoyed trying to figure out what would end up happening with the Quantum Dragon plotline.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. After ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ or so, the Harry Potter books definitely get darker and darker as the series goes on, and there’s definitely an enjoyable side to that trip. Now, I came into ‘Prince’ already spoiled as to one particular detail, so was reading through it wondering just how and when a particular ‘beloved’ character would meet his end. (He actually isn’t one of my favorites from the Potter cast.) But I was taken by surprise with several details – the mystery of who the Prince actually was, though the answer was staring me in the face the whole time. Also the romantic subplot for Harry, which was very well-done and seemed natural for the characters involved.

From the very beginning, the Potter books have set up a paradoxical triangle of trust – Harry never trusted Severus Snape, but he trusted Dumbledore and knew that Dumbledore trusted Snape. This set up the obvious question of whether one or both of Harry or Dumbledore was right in their attitude towards Snape. The end of ‘Half-Blood Prince’ appears to provide a final answer to that question, but I wonder. Few things in Harry’s world are that simple, and I have most of a book left. (At this point, I’m 66 pages into ‘Deathly Hallows.’)

I’ve got quite a few books on the go at the moment, including Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”, which is the August book for the Stringing Words Book of the Month Club. So far, that’s interesting but curiously retro, and I’m wondering what else can possibly go wrong on planet Mars. I’m also in the middle of:

  • Summer Knight, by Jim Butcher
  • A Little Night Magic, by Lucy March
  • All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris
  • Pet Peeve, by Piers Anthony


Harry Dresden versus the Ghosts

June 22, 2012

Okay, another great book recently wrapped up, “Grave Peril,” by Jim Butcher. (Mild spoilers follow, I think.) As an aside, this is the first Harry Dresden book I read on Kindle, as opposed to on an audio-player, (yes, I know that the Kindle can be used to play audible.com books, but it’s not really good at it in my opinion.) It was still really easy to dive into, and I kept hearing James Marster’s voice in Harry’s dialog and narration.

I was told by a friend that the Harry Dresden books really pick up with this one, and was a little surprised and concerned, since I’d liked the first two in the series so much. But now, I can see what he meant. Harry is still the same dry, witty sunnuvabee, and there’s still a lot of great action and adventure. But Jim did manage to turn the dial up in a few important ways:

He took away what Harry was good at when it counts. This is a good trick for those of us who write fantasy, I think. In one of his early encounters with the big bad, Harry gets most of his wizardly power eaten, and so he has to struggle through most of the second act as a shadow of his awesomely magical self, while the bad guy gets to use his own tricks against him, because, as Bob the spirit puts it, ‘You are what you eat.’ This raises the stakes in a very personal way, and forces Harry to be much more creative and ingenious, as he has to figure out how to do more with less, or maybe with no wizardry at all.

He took away something that matters to Harry even more. I’m not going to say anything more spoiler-ey here, except that it’s about somebody we know Harry cares about. And this time, the consequences aren’t all cleared up by the end of the book. Again, it’s about raising the stakes, this time, on a personal level – show what matters to your character, then have them lose it.

He’s setting up plot elements for later in the series. This one doesn’t just apply to the loss I mentioned above, though it does count. Also, though the main bad guy has been defeated, some of his allies are stronger than ever. They’re pissed with Harry, and with all white wizards on principle, which means that the other white wizards are also pissed with Harry for dragging them into a war that they didn’t want to be part of.

I’m looking forward to Harry Dresden #4, “Summer Knight”!


‘Out of Media Res’ transitions

May 28, 2012

So, I dove into reading Jim Butcher’s “Grave Peril” this morning. I’d dipped my toe into the book back in late March, reading a bit from the first chapter, and didn’t get any further because I was trying to catch up on Elizabeth Twist’s short story challenge and just getting to some of the good parts of ‘Game of Thrones.’ So this morning, pulling out my Kindle on the bus, I started from the beginning again.

It’s an exciting opening, with Harry Dresden and a holy knight going to a big Chicago hospital to save some babies from a formidable ghost. And then, just at the most exciting part of the scene… we find out that it was an ‘In Media Res’ opening, starting in the middle of the action, or at least a point after the chronological beginning of the narrative.

A lot of the time when you have an IMR opening, it’s fairly obvious, but this one snuck up on me, partly because it wasn’t a trick Butcher had used in the previous Harry Dresden books. (Incidentally, this is also the first that I’m not reading in audiobook format, so it’s somewhat odd the way James Marsters’ voice is sticking with me, giving life to Harry’s words inside my head.) I knew that there were a few things going on that had to be explained about how Harry and Michael Carpenter got where they were, but hadn’t actually clued in that there would be flashback scenes to go along with the explanation, or that this was a flash-forward scene.

So I’ve started thinking about the moment when you come out of ‘In Media Res’, and transition back to the chronological beginning of the story. Sometimes, with a narrator in a book, he actually tells you ‘But wait, I’m going to have to back up a bit…’ or something of that sort. In a movie or television episode, there might be nothing to signal the transition but a bare caption: “23 and a half hours earlier…”

What are your favorite ‘In Media Res’ openings? Were you taken by surprise, or did you know that they were using the In Media Res technique from the start? How did they handle the transition back in time?

When you play this game, you win or you die

May 18, 2012

So – after nearly two months of reading off and on, I finally reached the end of George R.R. Martin’s big fat fantasy novel, “Game of Thrones.” I enjoyed it, though it probably won’t make any best-books lists I may write, and I do plan to read on in the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series… but not until I’ve caught up with a few other series, like Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, (huh, how about that!) and Discworld.

A few of the things I particularly liked:

  • The characters are well portrayed and engaging, though, because I was warned about the author’s propensity for gut-wrenching twists, I found that I was avoiding attaching too closely with any one character, for fear of being put through the wringer as they’re tortured or grieving when they’re killed – or both.
  • There’s something very refreshing and fun about a fantasy world where the majority of the characters are – uncooth, vulgar, earthy, and carnal. A lot of the high fantasy I’ve read takes the opposite tack, and it somehow seems more realistic to be in a gritty world where the characters swear freely, at least based on the situation: Lord Ned Stark will go profanity for profanity with his good friend the King, but is always more delicate with his lady wife, Catelyn, and she is lady-like in most situations… unless she really gets pissed off.
  • Some of the surprise twists are pulled off really well, especially when the author takes a situation in a way that is fairly natural based on the characters, but violates the usual tropes of storytelling and good triumphing in the end, so that you’re left reeling and trying to figure out how this defeat will affect the wider-canvas story being told.

Have you read any of ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ or watched the ‘Game of Thrones’ series on television? What do you think? Please, no spoilers!

Guest Post: An Intro To The Topic of Character Development!

November 16, 2011

Greetings Readers,

Once again, my name is Mark Allen and once again, I find myself filling in for Chris today!

As some of you are no doubt aware, tomorrow Chris celebrates his 36th Birthday but what many of you are (hopefully) not aware is that he is currently spending in a specialized temporary witness protection program offered by Monoc Securities in a recent settlement between certain paranormally active splinter groups of the mafia and the White Court brokered by the White Council via their reluctant representative Harry Dresden to protect a few people (Chris included) who accidentally ended up getting married in Las Vegas.

Now normally, of course, this would be easily resolved by a visit to city hall the next day, filling out the 19-d annulment forms, paying the filing fees and then it would forever expunged under the blanket rule of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Sadly, circumstances have forced an exception to said blanket rule when a few days ago it was found that a group of supposedly harmless Mummies exhibited at a special showing as a promotion for the Luxor actually proved to be an ancient group of White Court vampires who planned to use an ancient marriage ceremony regarding the souls of their collected fiances with a White Court aura fueled Las Vegas party to end all parties (literally) to create a god.

So in the meantime while Chris finds himself staying in hiding with a noted member of the White Council in Chicago, not able to use any of his electronics to feed the blog, it again falls to me to fill the void!

Fortunately, I was already in the process of drafting a few entries regarding the subject of character design for aspiring authors when a few days ago I found myself composing a response to the RPG Challenge for MyIGN, however I soon realized that I would probably need to create my own post due to the excessive verbosity levels imposed by my boundless enthusiasm for the subject so I’ve decided to see if I can combine the two to offer an intro to a few of the posts I’m still in the process of working on finishing up!

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