Sunday, January 27, 2013

Appendix

Not long ago, I was in the middle of reading my digital copy of The Hobbit when I remembered that The Lord of the Rings book 3 has a substantial amount of appendices. This isn't surprising considering the enormous amount of world-building involved to bring Middle-Earth to life. And this is also true of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, whose volumes include heavy appendices. 

It's an idea that I thought would go well with The Quantum of the Past. But since I'm putting it out in three volumes, these appendices will have to reflect the content in each. I am about finished with the appendices for volume one, which include the most basic material about the world I created--its culture(s) and peoples.

The heavier material will be in volume 2. The most difficult of these to complete will be: A map of the region surrounding Lusphera and its municipalities; a simple, though thorough, guide to the language used by one of the cultures there; depictions of family crests; and a glossary. 

The appendices I've done so far are not looking bad. Here is a sample:




Maybe you can catch how it's "extended." That was a joke. It's actually really easy to see.



LC

 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Pain Scale, a review

I haven't reviewed a book in a while and I think I'm rusty. The Pain Scale is the work of one of my instructors at CSULB, Tyler Dilts. It was a unique pleasure to read it, just to see a sample of the old gentleman's craft.

But I had other reasons for reading this book. It is a detective mystery, even if of a different sort. And I am working on a mystery myself, though I admit not at the pace I would like. Therefore, reading this book is a sort of preparation for writing my own work. Old Tyler still has some tricks to teach me and I picked out many of them in this book.

***

The Pain Scale (Long Beach Homicide series #2)
Genre: Detective, Mystery, Police Procedural











Overview: Long Beach Police Detective Danny Beckett must deal with chronic pain and the gritty nature of his existence while trying to solve the gruesome murders of an upper-class wife and her young children.



What didn't work for me:

There is a difference between what is possibleprobable, and plausible. In fiction, authors must work with all three. Depending on the tone and vision of the novel, the author may choose to rely on one of the three more than the others.

Fantasy novels use magic and creatures of myth and legend. These elements are in the far reaches of what is possible in our universe. The events depicted are therefore not probable. Yet, a skilled author may describe what happens in a Fantasy novel in such a way that the story seems plausible, which is also true of Science Fiction--just look at the way George Lucas made us believe in the awesome Sith, lightsabers, the Force, Jedis, etc.

I could argue that plausibility is the driving force behind the elements of fiction. But this is not a completely new concept. This is also known in another by another name: Suspension of disbelief. Or, if you bullshit me the right way, I'm liable to believe you. But this is an essay for a different day.

One of the most enjoyable qualities of A King of Infinite Space, the first novel in Dilts' series, was the level of realism that coated the procedures of the homicide detectives, the city, and the criminal element. As far as the plot went in A King of Infinite Space, it could have happened yesterday or perhaps might happen tomorrow with very few facts changed.

In The Pain Scale, Tyler Dilts again shows us a plot with a similar coating, but it scratches the borders of what is probable. Without giving too much away, my problem was with the spec ops and the Russian mob, both of which could easily find a home in any Patterson or Lee Child novel.

I won't beat him up too much for this though since the resolution satisfies.



What worked for me:

The characters are the most enjoyable aspect of the novel. Danny and Jen are two of the most authentic characters I have read. Their idiosyncrasies, passions, pains--all of it--come across as real. And this is so important in the digital age when literary production rivals the production of burgers at fast food restaurants--McLiterature reigns.  

Did I want to know that Danny loves a certain type of breakfast burrito? Did I want to know that Jen is looking for a new place to live and Danny wants to help? Did I want to know about the myriad of side notes about Long Beach Dilts throws in every page?

I don't have to know these things to understand the plot, but they are essential to understanding and liking the characters. Long Beach is a character in this novel, as much as Los Angeles is in any Chandler novel. All along, I felt as though I was sitting down and having a conversation with the protagonist and could call myself his friend. And though he didn't say it, I could understand why he hasn't made a romantic move on his partner, even though I could sense the attraction he has for her. There is no rush for a sex scene or a declaration of love or a wedding at the end of the novel. It just wouldn't make sense.

Many times while reading a novel, I get the sense that these are characters created for a novel. They are often predictable and their sentiments and reflections are, for a lack of a better expression, "garden variety." There is hardly any human growth, though there is tons of character development. Maybe I confused you just now. I don't see character development as human growth. Character development has become a cliche for novels, which hardly captures what human beings go through.

Character development has the taint of Hollywood films. In most movies, it is expected that whatever ailment the main character suffers from will be dealt with by the end of the film. That's character development, which is part of the traditional story arc, but it's not human growth. What I'm talking about is slow, sometimes circular, and with many failures that are never neatly dealt with.

Think about it: After you get that big promotion you worked so hard for, do the credits start playing, signaling the end of your life? Hopefully not. What happens is, you have new challenges riddled with the possibility for failure. Maybe you didn't get the promotion at all. Does your life then cut to a montage of scenes from the work you did to overcome that failure? No. You look for a new job or become grudgingly content with your current position.

Sometimes, life ends in failure.

In the novel, for example, Danny wants desperately to deal with the chronic pain he suffers from. He finds an outlet in immersing himself in police work, but it creates new perils. In the end, he never successfully deals with the chronic pain and in reality, someone in his situation never can. It is just something to deal with. But because we are human, we want to try different things that may alleviate the pain. This is what Danny does and he is more human because of it.

And that brings me to the other aspect of this novel that worked for me: The pain. It is called The Pain Scale for a reason. Beyond the chronic pain that festers the protagonist after an operation to reattach his severed hand, there is the pain of the cast around him and the city itself. Worthy of note was Harlan, that crusty old retiree suffering quietly, and the pain that Jen and other police officers go through when a partner is injured in their line of work--it is very similar to the pain soldiers go through when they lose a comrade in war.

Pain, pain, pain. Life is pain. Dilts showcases it well.



Overall:

Every work of literature, from the simplest work of genre to the greatest literary masterpiece, suffers from flaws. It is inevitable; the writer is only human. And by "flaw" I don't mean a misspelled word or a formatting error. There are flaws that can never be overcome. But it is a sign of greatness to see an author work onward despite these flaws. The author acknowledges that they do the best they can and can do no more.  

The Pain Scale is an excellent second addition to Tyler Dilts' series. It goes beyond the traditional Mystery by putting character dynamics right up there with the plot.

With this in mind, I would say that The Pain Scale is a fresh story of frustration and pain. It hurts to read it because it is so much like real life. It shouldn't stop you though.



LC



Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The world didn't end in 2012...

When I think back to this period in my life, what I'll remember most is the cold. I'm in a sort of Limbo right now where it is very, very cold.

I thought, "I can just pick up without much effort, back to work and all of that."

This was not the case.

***

The pilot light of the heater that is supposed to warm up the united I live in is off. Therefore, the heater lies dormant day in and day out. I could turn it on, but I never do. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's the same reason why I don't buy things to make the place more a "home" than just a pit stop.

For as long as humans have been able to stay in places long enough to establish societies, warmth has always been a defining characteristic of homes. Turning on that pilot light would make a home of that space. But here I'm oversimplifying. Homes are warm, true, but mostly because of habitation. People live in homes, families.

So, turning on that pilot light has an enormous amount of meaning. I can't turn it on. I won't. And that means that I'll be very, very cold at night.

***

The other day, after a party at a friend's house in San Pedro, I arrived at the unit and turned on the space-heater that substitutes for the gas heater whose pilot light is off. It's portable, something to carry with me wherever I go.

A few minutes after I had turned it on, and was watching the nightly news in a half-drunken stupor,  there was an explosion outside. The lights and other electronics in the room popped and went off; the surge protectors sacrificed their lives for the greater good. I ran out of the place in a panic, wondering if something had caught fire--the smell of burning plastic components was thick in the air.

It had been raining earlier and the ground was wet. Sensing that a wet floor and loose electricity were too good of a match, I went back into the darkened unit. It was safe inside. But that was it for the small comfort the space-heater had brought.

There was no more warmth that night. To pass the time, I would walk around and cranked the lever on my flashlight--it's one of those models that doesn't need batteries, but for a person to crank the lever and generate enough of a charge for the bulbs. That tired me and I went to see what the police were up to. Two patrol cars were outside with their lights flashing. A child wept for his mother in the neighboring unit. No one was out, except for me and my dying saber of light.

With cold feet, strained nerves, and no heater, I curled up in the sheets and got what sleep I could.

The next day, I noted that the power surge had put to rest the Keurig coffee machine I had gotten as a present. It was a used gift so it had no warranty. That meant no more coffee at night.


***

At work, I was talking to Bartholomew about how cold the nights in Los Angeles have gotten lately. She told me about her friend in Idaho and how it was 16 degrees over there. And that put things in perspective. I've spent a Christmas in Iowa, which is also very cold in winter. I remember how my ears almost frosted when we got out of the airport!

And before that, I had spent four years in Europe, Germany specifically. Those were cold winters full of merry snow, which I won't soon forget. One of those four years I spent in the former Yugoslavia, what they now call Bosnia and Herzegovina. The winter of '96 was one of the coldest I have ever spent in my life.

So, given my experiences in extremely cold environments, why does this petty cold bother me so much?


***

I related my woes to another version of Bartholomew and she gave me a late Christmas present: An electrically heated pad. It's small enough to put on my lap. It works well and makes the cold tolerable.

And that warmed my heart, friendship.

The world didn't end in 2012. Here, I could say some cliche, like this is just a beginning for us all. But why? Live in the cold or die in it, what matters is that the world carries on. Finding an ember to warm you at night is great and I'm lucky to have it.


LC

Friday, January 4, 2013

My first crude cover!

I can take no more of tweaking the art for the cover of The Quantum of the Past vol 1. So, I left it alone and am willing to settle for what it is--crude, but all my vision. Of course, I don't plan on putting ugly covers on all my works. The lessons I learned on this one I will apply to future work, like the cover of vol 2.

But it is something I created. And hey, if I drink enough it doesn't look that bad!



LC