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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Home for Christmas--Wherever That IsPart II

A few who read the first story wanted to find out what would happen once Sisko brought the ogre home for Christmas. I thought the story did end well enough for the original purpose, but obviously there's more story as well! So I decided to bring on part two so you can see the consequences of Sisko inviting an ogre home for Christmas.

Sisko and Josh strolled down the street in Raul. Xilner, their newly befriended ogre, followed close on their footsteps. Citizens of the town stared at the ogre as he walked by. One man in a horse drawn cart nearly ran over a child as he stared at the bulky creature.

Josh turned down a street. "See you later. Have a good Nativity feast." He smiled at Xilner. "And you too, my friend."

"Thank you." Xilner bowed.

"And Sisko..." Josh drummed his fingers on his jaw. "Good luck with your mother."

Sisko smiled. "Have a great one yourself. I'm sure my mother will be fine, eventually."

Josh turned and proceeded to his own house. Sisko resumed his trek toward his own.

Xilner stepped up beside Sisko. "You sure your mother will be all right with me?"

Sisko sighed. "It'll be a shock to her, I'm sure. But you are my guest, and I think she'll come around. She's a very loving woman."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Just be your loving self."

Xilner grunted. "An ogre? Loving isn't usually associated with us."

"You'll be fine. Don't worry." Sisko considered the best way to break this to his mother now that the time had come. They traveled down his street until he arrived in front of the white fence to his house.

Sisko turned to Xilner. "Stay out here."

Xilner nodded.

Sisko walked up the steps and entered the house.

"Sisko, is that you?" His mother's voice rang from the kitchen.

"Yes, Mother." He stepped into the kitchen.

"It's about time. I'm busy getting ready for the Nativity service and you're out playing around. Probably with Josh no doubt."

"I wouldn't say playing around. Josh and I were exchanging presents." Sisko sat at the table.

"Oh, well that's nice. What did he get you?"

Sisko rubbed his chin. "Well, ah...a new friend."

She turned from her dough kneading to stare into his eyes. "Josh got you a friend for Christmas?"

"Yes, and a friend who didn't have anywhere to go for Christmas. I hope it is all right, but I invited him to spend Christmas with us."

She kneaded the dough two more times, slammed her hand into it, and folded it over into a wooden slab, covering it with a cloth. She wiped her hands as she gazed into Sisko's eyes.

"You could have asked me before you invited him."

"Well..." Sisko bit his lip. "That would have been nearly impossible since we were miles away."

She put her hands on her hips. "Miles away? Did Josh do something crazy again?"

Sisko shrugged. "I tried to stop him, but he used a transport spell before I could react. Next thing I know, I'm in another land, who knows where. I met my new friend there. When I found out he would be alone for Christmas, I was sure you would agree I had to invite him."

She stared at the ceiling for a moment before resting her eyes on Sisko. "You have a big heart, son. I can appreciate that. It certainly is the spirit of Christmas to help those without family. I'll set another place at the table tomorrow and increase the size of the meal."

Sisko jumped from his chair and hugged her. "You're the best." He released her. "He's outside waiting. Would you like to meet him?"

She strolled toward the door. "Of course. Why wouldn't I want to meet your new friend. We can't leave him outside." She reached for the doorknob.

Sisko put a hand on hers. "Hold on, first you should know..."


Sisko breathed deep. "His name is Xilner."

"You could have told me that when you introduced me." She reached for the knob again.

"Wait!" He pulled her hand back.

"Sisko, do you want me to meet him or not?"

"There's one other thing you should know about him."

She stared at him.

Sisko tried to think of a way to break this gently, but nothing came to mind. This was as gentle as it would get.

"My friend, he's an ogre."

She continued staring at Sisko as if his words failed to register. She appeared frozen, but then she sucked in a breath and let it out slowly.

"Are you sure this is a good idea, Son? We're as likely to be eaten by him as to eat with him." She peered out the window and stopped breathing again.

"Mother, he's really nice. If he wanted us for Christmas dinner, he had plenty of opportunity with Josh and I. I doubt I would be here right now."

She shook her head. "I don't know. He's so big."

"He's my friend. I promised him he wouldn't be alone this Christmas. If I need to, I'll spend it with him out of the house."

She pulled away from the window and faced Sisko. "I'd better send your father out to kill another calf."

Sisko smiled. "Thank you, Mother."

She straighten her dress. "Now can we meet him?" She put on a smile and swung the door open. "Xilner! How wonderful to meet you."


The time neared for the Nativity service at Church. Xilner sat on the floor, not finding a chair big enough for his rear. "I've never been to a Nativity service before. What's it like?"

Sisko pulled on a fresh pair of socks. "Very joyful and reverent. Just what you'd expect at the birth of a king."

"You'll have to tell me more about this king sometime."

Screams echoed from the street outside. Then loud, deep voices gruffly arced through the night air.

Xilner's jaw dropped open. "Not now. Not here!"

Sisko leaped to his feet and raced toward the door.

Xilner scrambled to his feet. "Wait, Sisko! Don't go out there."

Sisko swung the door open and stumbled outside. If anything bad was to happen, he couldn't allow it to happen inside the house. He didn't want to put his family in danger.

Sisko gulped as he examined four ogres holding torches in hands. Xilner exited the house and stopped on the porch.

One of the ogres spun his head around and saw Xilner. "There you are. We followed your smell from your house."

Xilner clinched his fists. "Can't you allow me this one luxury?"

"We told you not to leave your house. We warned you what would happen if any should help you." He turned to Sisko. "Men, we have our Christmas dinner."

Xilner leaped into the yard beside Sisko. "I will not let you take him."

The ogre threw his head back and laughed. "As if you could do anything to stop me. Have you not learned anything?"

Xilner growled. "I've learned more from this human than I ever have from you."

Sisko whispered toward Xilner. "Is he serious about eating me?"

Xilner nodded. "I did say some ogres do eat people." Xilner met Sisko's eyes. "Problem is, he's a wizard too."

Sisko groaned. "Naturally. Why wouldn't an ogre be a wizard. Especially one who wants to eat me."

Xilner stepped toward the group. "Leave us alone."

The ogre grinned. "Good idea. Why don't you leave us alone!" He cast his hand out and mumbled some words. A bluish light emanated from his hand and enveloped Xilner. He froze, grew bright, then dimmed until he had disappeared.

Sisko felt his gut wrench. "Where did you send him?"

"Back where he belongs. Alone, in his house."

Sisko stepped toward them. "What gives you the right! He's my friend."

"Not anymore. You're our dinner." He spoke more words Sisko couldn't hear and flung his hand out. Bands of silver whipped themselves around his body, immobilizing him. Sisko fell onto the ground with a thud.

The world dimmed. Sisko fought against it, but the spell pressed in upon him, overran his thoughts, numbed his fingers and toes, and then darkness rolled over him, drowning him in frightening thoughts and dreams.


Sisko heard gruff voices and felt rocks jabbing him in the back. He cracked his eyes open and attempted to wiggle into a more comfortable position. Tree's lined a clearing. In the center of the clearing, a cast iron pot sat on a fire, filled with bubbling liquid. Several ogres sat around the area. Some in conversation, some napping.

Sisko found the moon in the night sky. The Nativity service would be in progress now, and his mother would be worried sick. Probably blame Xilner for carrying him away, never to be heard from again.

A foot jabbed Sisko in the back. He rolled over.

An ogre knelt beside him. "You're a bit scrawny, but the bones are the tastiest part anyway. I think we're about ready to chop you up and add you to the soup. Any last words before you provide us with enjoyment?"

"Yes. If I get a last request, I would that you cook me in the main steam house in Raul."

The ogre laughed and shook his head. "You think ogres are dumb, don't you. You think we don't know about your steam house? When's the last time you saw an ogre enter there?"

Sikso sighed. "Never."

"Exactly. And for good reason. We know what would happen to us in there. Now, do you have any last words at all? Any message you want us to convey to your parents?"

Sisko didn't want these guys going anywhere near his family. "No, but we have some calves you can have for your dinner. No need to eat me."

The ogre grinned. "We eat cattle all the time. Humans, on the other hand, are a delicacy. Only for special occasions, like Christmas."

Sisko shook his head. "How can you celebrate a birth with a death?"

The ogre drew out a long knife. "Who says we're celebrating a birth? Christmas for an ogre only means two things. Giving gifts and eating good. You're the eating good part." He turned to the ogre manning the pot. "Is the broth ready for the meat?"

It nodded. "Good and ready."

The ogre flipped the knife around so that the blade pointed down. "Nothing personal, you understand."

Sisko's mind raced. What could he do? "My name's Sisko. What's yours?"

The ogre sputtered. "I don't need to know my food's name, nor do I give mine to a meal. Hold still, I'll make this painless." He pulled the knife back.

That didn't work. Sisko closed his eyes and gritted his teeth.

"Stop!" Another ogre entered the clearing. Sisko flung his eyes open to see Xilner moving toward them.

The other ogres all stopped what they did and stared. The ogre over Sisko ground his teeth. "How did you get here?"

"I've had a lot of time to study in my house. Some of my time I spent on learning spells."

The ogre curled his lips. "If so, why haven't you used them before?"

"I didn't have a reason before. Now I do." He stared at Sisko and smiled.

The ogre threw a hand out and said something under his breath. A flash of light blasted toward Xilner, but Xilner cast his arms up and it blasted short of its target as if hitting an invisible wall.

Xilner raced toward them.

The ogre over Sisko pulled his knife back and plunged it toward Sisko's neck. A hand grabbed the knife's hilt and shoved it back up, the tip missing Sisko's neck by less than a quarter inch.

The two ogres rolled onto the ground. Xilner ended up under the other ogre. The knife pressed toward Xilner, the tip of the blade inching downward.

Sisko prayed for God to do something. He couldn't even move his arms and feet. Only pray and hope it would be enough.

But his gut wretched when Xilner's grip gave way, and the knife plunged into his heart. "No! Xilner!" Sisko felt his eyes tearing up.

The ogre lifted himself to his knees, and then pulled the knife from Xilner's chest. Xilner breathed twice before his chest rose once more, fell, and then remained still.

Sisko wiggled, but his binds remained strong. The ogre knelt beside him once more. "Now his blood will be mingled with your own. We'll still gnaw on your bones." He raised the blade. "Time to finish this."

He thrust the blade once more toward Sisko. But he stopped in midair as another blade shoved its way through the ogre's chest. He exhaled a gasp, his eyes wide. Then he fell over onto the ground, revealing a bright angel holding a red sword.

The rest of the ogres scattered like cockroaches when a lamp is lit, leaving Sisko alone with the angel. The bright being waved his hands and the silver bands snapped one by one until Sisko could lift himself to his feet.

He gazed at his rescuer. "Who are you?"

"You don't recognize me?" He cast his arms out as if allowing Sisko to get a better look.

"Sorry, not at all."

"I'm Xilner."

Sisko's gasped. "Xilner! How? You don't look anything like him."

"This ogre put a curse on me, turning me into one of them. I denied them of a meal one other time. This ogre had cast a spell on me that locked me into an ogre's body and required me to stay in the house where you found me.

"But there was one condition he didn't know about. An angel told me if I were to ever give my life for another, the curse would be broken, for no greater love can one show than to give his life for another."

Sisko smiled. "So when he killed you in your attempt to defend me, the curse died and this is the real you."

"As God created me. Yes."

Sisko smiled. "I always knew you were beautiful inside."

"Thank you for being a friend. Without you, I couldn't have been saved. I had to have someone to die for."

Sisko had to grin. "You're welcome."

"Have a blessed Nativity celebration. You'll find Raul about a mile to the east." Xilner vanished.

Sisko didn't waste any time grabbing a torch and jogging back home before the ogres decided to show up again. He dodged trees and brush until the village of Raul broke into view. He kicked up dirt as he shot through the streets until he reached the steps of the church.

He put out the torch in his hand and laid it by the entrance. He entered the service to hear the singing of the Nativity hymn. He slid in by his mother.

She jerked and saw Sisko beside her. She bent down and whispered, "Where were you? I thought that ogre had dragged you away."

Sisko smiled at her. "Helping a friend to give birth, actually."

About that time the priest raised his hand and said, "Christ is born!"

The congregation responded in unison, "Glorify Him."

Sisko felt a warmth settle upon him. He mumbled under his breath, "Yes, it was glorious."


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Home for Christmas—Wherever That Is

As a Christmas Gift for my blog readers, I'm offering this free 1922 word Christmas story from the Realities' world. What happens when you mix an ogre and Christmas together? You'll never guess. Read on to find out. And have a Merry Christmas!

Sikso held out a gift. He hoped Josh would like it.

Josh smiled and lifted the gift from Sisko's palm. A couple of children passed by on the road in front of his house as Josh ripped the wrapping off.

They had decided to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve. Sisko wished he could have found something prettier than green leaves stitched together, but he had nothing else to wrap it in. He put such thoughts aside. He knew his best friend Josh wouldn't mind. The excitement of the Christmas celebration forgave many minor trespasses.

Josh pulled it out of the wrapping. A polished wooden stick. Josh smiled. "A wand."

Sisko nodded. "I carved, sanded, and stained it myself. Should be useful in your wizard training."

Josh waved it around. "I like it. Thanks." He glanced at Sisko and back to his new wand. "Did your ring add anything to it?"

"No, why would it?" The ring he'd received allowed him to do miracles, heal people mostly, help them in general. He'd been charged to be his brother's keeper, helping whoever God led him to.

"Just wondering." Josh examined the wand close up. "As a matter of fact, this will help me to give you a gift."

Sisko raised an eyebrow. "Josh, tell me what you're planning."

He smiled. "That would spoil the surprise." He twirled the wand through the air over his head and mumbled some words.

"Josh, hold on!" Sisko jumped from the porch. He felt a wave of distortion pass over him. Combined with the movement, it caused his stomach to lurch. His front yard vanished and a forest of trees took their place.

Josh scanned the area as if searching. Sisko followed his eyes to see a house nestled among the trees. Josh pointed at the house. "Does that look familiar?"

Sisko shook his head. "Never seen this place before."

Josh sighed. "I thought I had the transport spell down better."

Sisko frowned. "Where are we?"

Josh stared at the ground. "I don't know."

"But you sent us here."

"I thought I had a better picture of your Uncle Seth's house."

Sisko slapped his forehead. "So that's why you kept asking me all those questions about my uncle's house."

"Milnore said a transport spell worked if you had a clear image of where you needed to transport to."

Sisko leaned against a tree. "So why didn't it work? I think I painted a clear enough picture of my uncle's house."

Josh thought for a second. "Milnore must have meant I needed to be there. To have a complete visual picture in my mind, I have to experience the place."

"Do me a favor? When you're experimenting with spells, leave me out of it?"

Josh hung his head. "Sorry. I only wanted to let you visit with your Uncle for Christmas."

Sisko placed a hand on Josh's shoulder. "You had good intentions. No harm done. Just send us back. You do have a mental image of our village, don't you?"

He smiled. "Of course."

The door to the house flung open and then a young boy flew from it. A man wielding an ax chased after him. "Get back here, you thief!"

Sisko's heart leaped within him. He glanced at Josh. "I'm supposed to help someone here."

"Are you serious? Who, that boy?"

Sisko shrugged. "That's the only one I can see in trouble at the moment."

Josh shook his head. "You can't go running between that boy and an ax-wielding man."

Sisko jogged toward them. "Someone has to."

Josh huffed. "And of course it has to be you. Some Christmas present this turned out to be." He ran after Sisko.

As Sisko drew closer, the man's features grew clearer. Despite his size, he appeared hunched over, and big warts protruded on his forehead and cheeks. The young boy fled too fast. His black hair, shoulder length, flapped behind him as he ran.

"It's an ogre," Josh huffed from behind Sisko.

An ogre! Sisko had never met a live ogre before. The stories he'd heard weren't too flattering either. And this one's face, jaw locked as he chased after the boy, didn't dispel those impressions.

The boy tripped and tumbled to a stop in the grass. The ogre caught up with him and held the ax over his head. "Give it back!"

Sisko drew close enough to attract their attention. They both watched as Sisko and Josh slowed to a stop before them.

The ogre growled. "Stay out. This is none of your business."

Sisko stepped beside the boy. "When I see bullies chasing someone with an ax, it becomes my business."

The ogre pointed at the boy. "He stole from me. I have a right to get it back."

The boy shook his head. "He wants to eat me."

The ogre laughed. "I don't want to eat him."

Josh cleared his throat. "I heard ogres like to eat people."

The ogre shrugged. "Some do." He raised his ax higher. "I don't have to explain myself to you two. Step aside. I have no reason to cut you down, but I will if I have to."

Sisko nodded his head. "Sorry. You'll have to kill me first."

Josh's eyes widened. "Sisko, what are you doing?"

The ogre nodded. "He's right. Why would you want to die for someone you don't even know? Why protect a criminal?"

"Because he's worth as much in God's eyes as you or me. All I know is you're chasing him with an ax."

The ogre sighed. "Have it your way." He pulled the ax back.

Josh flipped his wand out and said some words. Mud flew from the ground and splatted over the ogre's eyes. The ogre dropped the ax and then wiped his eyes. "You idiots!"

The young boy leaped to his feet and fled into the forest.

Josh motioned for Sisko to leave. "You've done your helping thing, now let's go."

Sisko checked his heart. "No, I'm not done here."

Josh groaned. "Why not?" He watched as the ogre splashed water over his eyes from a basin by the side of the house.

"All I know is I still haven't helped the one I'm here for. The boy must not have been it."

Josh stared at the sky. "I would at least recommend we go to a nearby town to find the one you're supposed to help. I'd rather not still be here when the ogre comes back. He's not likely to be too happy with us."

Sisko ran fingers through his hair. "I feel this ogre is the one I'm supposed to help."

"You can't be serious."

Sisko watched the ogre wiping his face with cloth. "I'm afraid I am." But what the ogre needed help with, Sisko couldn't imagine. Finding out would be the tough part.

The ogre approached them. "You two! Why did you interfere?"

Sisko glanced at Josh before facing the ogre. "Like I said, it appeared you intended to hurt the boy."

"I wouldn't have hurt him. I only wanted to scare him." The ogre sat on a stump. "He's stole from me before. It's become a game with them. See who can steal from the fat, slow ogre." He stared into the forest.

Josh glanced toward Sisko, and then back to the ogre. "What did you do to deserve that?"

The ogre jerked his head up and glared at Josh. "Why do you think I deserve it? Because I'm an ogre!"

Josh stared at the ground. "Uh, no, that's not what I meant."

"Of course it's what you meant. Everyone assumes because I'm an ugly and lumbering hulk that I must be mean, dangerous, and deserve every bad treatment." He barred his teeth. "What are you two still doing here anyway. You've done your humiliate-the-ogre bit. Begone and leave me in peace."

Sisko wondered if the poor ogre's problems would be changed if he appeared more handsome, trim, and winsome. He could change that with one prayer and the power of his ring. He reached out a hand, but stopped. No, it didn't feel right. The creature had been created an ogre, and he shouldn't mess with it. But then what should he do with his healing ring to help this ogre with his problems?

Josh met Sisko's eyes. He motioned with his head to leave as the ogre suggested.

The ogre stood. "Go away. I've no patience for trouble makers." He stepped toward the house.

Go away? The words resounded in Sisko's mind. How lonely must this ogre be? Sisko froze. Orge. That's all he was to the boy, to those who lived in this area. To even Josh and himself.

Sisko stepped forward. "My name is Sisko and this is Josh. What's yours?"

The ogre stopped and paused. A few seconds passed, then he turned. "What did you say?"

"I asked, what's your name?"

The ogre's eyes softened and his mouth relaxed. "No one's ever asked me that before." For the first time, a hint of a smile creased his lips. "My name is Xilner. Glad to meet your acquaintance, Sisko and Josh."

Sisko bowed. "The honor is all mine, Xilner."

He sat back on the stump. "So tell me, how come you stayed?"

Sisko grinned. "Because God told me I needed to help you."

"Help me?" He shook his head. "That's a first. No one has ever helped me. Called me names, scream at me, beat on me, steal from me, yes. But help me? No."

An idea popped into Sisko's head. He'd likely get in big trouble for this. "Xilner, do you have any plans for Christmas."

"Plans? What I do every year. Sit in my house, munch on food, and watch the world drift by oblivious to me."

Sisko nodded. "Not this year. This year, I'm inviting you to my house for Christmas."

Josh's mouth fell open. "Your mother isn't going to like this."

Sisko smiled. "Probably not. But I have a feeling Xilner will grow on them pretty quick."

Xilner grinned. "I wouldn't be too much of a problem, would I?"

Sisko waved a hand. "No, no. You're my personal guest."

"And your mother isn't going to like it." Josh glanced at Sisko. "Just sayin'."

Sisko stared into the sky and nodded his head.

Xilner rose and headed toward his house. "I'll get ready. I need to change clothes." He stopped and turned around. "Sisko, thank you."

"For the invite?"

"Well, yes, for the invite. But mostly for treating me as a person." He grinned big before heading back to the house.

"What do you know, Josh. I didn't even need to use my ring to fix this one. He's just lonely. Needs someone to care about him." Sisko slapped Josh on the back. "You gave me the greatest Christmas present ever."

Josh watched Sisko from the corner of his eye. "Really? You're helping him. What are you getting out of it?"

"The satisfaction of being my brother's keeper. And for finding that brother in the most unlikely of beings."

Josh crossed his arms. "Well, glad I could help. I had this planned from the beginning. Just wanted it to be a surprise."

"Right. Now how about getting that transport spell back in gear. And please, please, get a good image in your mind of Raul before you do the spell? I don't want to end up in some strange place for Christmas."

He blew air from his mouth. "No problem. I'm ready." He watched as Xilner exited the door. "But I know your mother isn't going to like this."

The End

Residential Aliens Goes Printy!

If you like good fantasy and science fiction or know someone who does, you may want to consider a subscription to Residential Aliens print magazine either for yourself or as a gift.

Readers of this blog know that I've had some stories appear in the web version of this magazine previously. The editor, Lyn Perry, had done a great job culling through stories and finding the gems. But many would rather read such great stories on paper than on a computer screen. Well, now you can!

He's offering an annual subscription of $25.00 for six issues, one every other month. You can't go wrong if you love a good story that takes you to new worlds, strange places, an all in a manner that is not only good for you, but an enjoyable ride.

Check it out. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Review: Seabirdby Sherry Thompson

SeabirdOne might be tempted to think a story where a character gets whisked away to a strange fantasy world would be full of trite fantasy plots. You'll find none of that here. No elves, no dwarfs, wizards, dragons. Instead, you get enchanters, young ones, seabirds, and various people set in a well-crafted world, deep in its own history and cultures. Just exploring this new world with Cara is its own reward as Sherry Thompson does a great job of putting the reader firmly into this new world with detail and descriptions that paint a picture, but don't get in the way of the story.

But it doesn't stop there. While Lewis-like in its basic premise, the allegory, while there, is with a lighter touch. The Narentian god, Alphesis, is obviously an analogy to Jesus Christ. The character only appears at key moments and doesn't devolve into a deus ex machina solution to the dangers faced, a problem Lewis had in some of his Narnia novels. Nor would the secular reader feel they were preached at.

What you do have is a modern fantasy along the lines of Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams, but with Sherry Thompson's own stamp firmly on it, making it her story. Cara Marshall is pulled into this new world, where she goes from being the scared teenager, to reluctant hero, to finding in herself the ability to sacrifice her own desires for those of others. The character arc is well built and satisfying.

The writing is well done. It has a big of a choppy feel to it at times, but this is due to the character's thought patterns being on the fragmented side. Less than a handful of times I had to stop and think where she was going, but those were far and few in between, and didn't distract me. While you might spot a typo here and there, the grammar is clean, the writing in most cases clear, and the story well-told.

The story does get a little slow at the beginning as Cara fights her calling to save these people, but it quickly accelerates and the action grows intense. There is a good touch of humor and pathos to the story. Death is a reality, and Cara faces her own doubts and deals with them in multiple ways. The struggle feels real, and I found myself rooting for her.

This is an enjoyable read with an original story, a rich world, and a solid cast of characters, both the main character and the supporting cast. The story is great for young adults, even young teens, but will be appreciated by adults as well who enjoy a solid fantasy that isn't like everything else out there.

I recommend reading this book if you enjoy a good fantasy story.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Review: "Seven Archangels: Annihilation"by Jane Lebak

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="260" caption="Seven Archangels: Annihilation"]Seven Archangels: Annihilation[/caption]

Seven Archangels: Annihilation
by Jane Lebak
ISBN: 0979307945

If you like angels and demons, this may be the book for you. Whereas the TV program "Touched By an Angel" played out in this world, this book primarily allows one to experience the world of angels and demons.

Certainly a difficult subject to pull off, simply because so many people have very set ideas of what angels and demons are like, as well as a theology about them. And one should be warned, this is not your daddy's angel book—unless you give it to him for Christmas. If you come at this book thinking this needs to conform to your theology of how angels are and act, you'll have a problem. Not that this book doesn't conform to a theology of angels, but one does have to keep in mind that this is fiction, not reality. The author isn't saying, "this is how angels really are and act." So if one comes at it giving the author some leeway in defining that world and knowing it may not sync with one's own theology one hundred percent, you'll enjoy this book.

The premise of the book is interesting. It boils down to what if Satan could kill an angel? In this story, he believes he can, and makes the attempt. And it appears he has succeeded in annihilating Gabriel. Can the other angels do anything to save Gabriel? Is one of them next? And what about God? Why did He allow this? The story follows the various angels and demons attempting to come to terms with Gabriel's annihilation.

If you're looking for an action packed book, this may not be for you. There is action to be had, but there are also chapters of dialog and waiting. Not that nothing is happening, but the pacing as far as action goes bogs down through the middle of the book, sandwiched between some well written action sequences in the beginning and the end.

But if you're wanting character interaction, look no further. A strong cast of angels and demons interact with one another, with well defined personalities and characters. I would suggest that the strong point of this novel is the cast of interesting characters and how they interact with one another. If that type of novel appeals to you, get this book and have at it.

If there is a weakness to the book, it would have to be the difficulty getting into the story. I think there are three reasons for this. One, while the cast of characters is the novel's strong point, they also contribute to the time it takes to get into the story. There are simply so many of them that it takes a while to match names with angels/demons. I almost felt I needed a program as in baseball to keep the players straight. But after some time, I had no trouble knowing who was who. It simply took three or four chapters to reach that point. And I'm on the slower side than others in that regard, so not all will have that same experience.

Two, the angel/demon world is so new and unlike our own that I was never sure what all the "rules" were as to how it operated. The strangeness of it kept me from sinking right into the story, attempting to acclimate myself to the world setting. Eventually I got there too, but it contributed to the delay. And each time a new power was revealed, I had to readjust the world's rules in my mind.

Three, while the point of view was well done and seamless in its execution so that I wasn't distracted from the story by it, it is written in a more omniscient view. Sometimes it sank into a close limited third with several of the characters, other times pulling back to a more omniscient perspective. While that point of view was necessary to tell the story, it did add to the time it took to get comfortable with the characters and their world.

I would say that by the fifth to sixth chapter or so, I didn't think as much about these things. If you're willing to spend a little time getting to know the characters and the world, if you like seeing a well developed setting, the story is worth the effort.

For the reader who enjoys a new world and a cast of interesting characters dealing with deep issues that we humans have faced for thousands of years, you don't want to miss out on this book. Despite the new world, and the angelic/demonic powers, what strikes me most is the very human issues it touches upon as this tale unfolds. And in that, it can teach us a lot about ourselves.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

To Praise or Critique? Is That the Question?

Do the writers who read this blog workshop your novels?

An interesting question. I bring this up for a couple of reasons. One, there are so many critique groups out there for critiquing stories. No doubt about that. I've been involved with one on-line group since 2006. And I've worked in a smaller, more personal one for some years as well.

And I have to say, both have been a big help. The first one I joined shortly after getting my feet wet was a big help in many ways. I had no clue what I was doing, and I learned a lot. And the novel I've had published I can say is a better novel for having gone through the critique group I'm a part of. I had some blind spots that were uncovered concerning the plot, and it became much richer of a story as a result.

So, upon reading the blog postings from Dean Wesley Smith titled: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Workshops, I had to take a second look on this topic. He certainly makes one think through these things, and I'm sure that makes him very happy.

His post does answer one question I had. That is, do professional authors who have made it use these groups? I sort of doubted it, because the time it takes for me to get a novel critiqued in one of these group, posting one to two chapters a week, it can take half a year or more, if the critiquers keep the pace up steadily. Since a lot of authors earning a living at writing fiction crank our more than one or two books a year, I had serious doubts that many, if any, used the sort of on-line or even in-person critique groups that I was using. It simply wouldn't be efficient time usage for them.

And I've also been aware of the problems inherent in critique groups, many of which Dean touches on in that article. For instance, some of my critiquers I know who they are and their qualifications. But especially in one group, by and large, I have no idea of their real names. I don't know what they've published, if ever they have. I have no clue whether they really know what they are talking about or not. They are individuals hidden behind a screen name who may be able to sound like they know what they are talking about, but have never published a story in twenty years of trying for all I know. They may be Orsen Scott Card as well, trying to remain hidden to avoid being treated differently. The point is, I have no clue, and so I have no clue whether their advice will kill off my novel's unique voice, or resurrect it from the ashes of my own incompetence.

But aside from all that, if I'm to learn and grow as a writer, at some point that process becomes a hindrance more than a help. In the end, it's your novel. Once you've learned whatever there is to learn from someone, and that I do agree with Dean should be the goal of these groups, it no longer makes sense to spend half a year or more gathering input. If you're going to make money, you write it, edit it, have someone beta read it, edit it, and send it out. Then repeat the process.

The other reason is I'm starting an on-line writer's group. Strange, I know. It sort of took on a life of its own as NaNo ended and several of us who spent all month on-line together wanted to keep the group together and perhaps help each other to edit their novels now that we had a rough draft to work with. So I'm forced to revisit this topic so I will know how to approach it myself.

There appear to be two options if we go to critiquing each other's novels. One, what I've been doing which is to post a chapter every so often. Once a week or two chapters a week, get critiques, etc. Then edit again at the end of the process. Or two, to go through and edit it as quickly as I can, send the whole manuscript to a couple of beta readers I trust, do final edits when I get them back and then ship the manuscript off.

For those new to the editing process, the first makes more sense. One, it gives them bite-sized chunks they can deal with and digest. Two, it provides them a deadline of sorts which helps get them moving on their novel when otherwise it'd sit gathering dust, virtual or otherwise, tucked away in a folder somewhere. But for the more experienced writer who has a few stories and novels under their belt, the later may make more sense. It will speed up the process, and the crit group instead provides the beta readers instead of a chapter-by-chapter critiquing process.

The one area I'm not so sure I totally agree with Dean on is to only say good things about the other person's work. I know personally I want to know what is wrong with it. That said, I have discovered that what works in my novel is also very important to know, and so I agree with that. I've had to work at mentioning and stating that myself when I critique.

However, here's the gray area I'm dealing with. There are times when I, and I've seen others do this, tell a person what they find wrong about their novel or story. And what they've found wrong is naturally a personal opinion. It's usually something that the individual critiquing the story thought didn't sound right, wasn't natural, too trite, the character(s) wouldn't behave like that (one of my favorites!), and on and on. But what it really boils down to is a personal opinion on whether some facet of the story is believable. And whether something is believable all depends on the history and culture of the person reading it.

Which is why so many stories with giant plot holes make it into books, TV, and the movies. Some of them with plot holes big enough you could fly a 747 through them. And yet, despite all that, the public loves them! They buy them and they become best sellers, they spend tons of money to go watch the movie full of plot holes. How can this happen? Because there are people who care, and there are people who don't care about those things. Some people simply want to be entertained, no matter the implausibility of the story. The people who usually get their ire up about it are other writers. Especially one's trying to make it as a writer. Not always, but I bet the 80-20 rule holds here as well. 80% of the writers will be bothered by plot holes, uninspired or wooden dialog, while 20% of them aren't. Conversely, 80% of the general population couldn't care less about those things, they just want to see a great story, and 20% of the general population will complain about it. Guess which 80% is bigger and will get the aspiring writer more sales?

So, guess what? You have a great story, even with plot holes or mediocre writing/acting, it can still make lots of money and do well.

What? You think I'm saying if it sells well that's all that matters? No, not hardly. But if it sells well, that means one primary thing: your book is in the hands of thousands compared to hundreds. It means people think enough of your story to plunk down cash they've worked hard for because they know it is worth that money. Strangers you may never meet rave about your book with coworkers and friends. Sales is how the general public votes on whether they liked your book. It is the vote that matters more than any of the awards, because without that, it don't get shared much, it doesn't reach very many people with its story and/or message.

And before I hear someone say its all about marketing, that simply isn't true. No amount of marketing will make a book people don't like into a bestseller, and the only way a book really becomes a best seller is if people like the story and talk about it to their friends. Marketing only provides the push that gets the snowball rolling down the hill. But then its up to the snowball to gather more snow to become big. If it doesn't, it simply loses steam and comes to a halt less than a quarter of the way down the hill. You still have to have a story that people enjoy. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to be fun!

And Dean's point is a critique group won't help you make it anymore fun, engaging, or your unique voice than it is when you finish the last page of the rough draft. It may help close up some plot holes. It might tell you that the story isn't fun and engaging, and if the people have a clue about good story telling, they might even be able to point you in the right directions as to why.

So if I'm hearing Dean right, and I hope I am, the point of a good workshop is for writers to help each other learn to write better, learn new tricks by looking mostly at what each other have done right more so than what they've done wrong. But I still think we can learn from what we've done wrong. I think the point there is we be very careful about making changes on what people have thought we have done wrong unless we ourselves are in complete agreement. But to focus on what works, that should be the idea if we want to learn what works. Yes?

What's your experience with critique groups?

Review: League of Superheroesby Stephen L. Rice

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="161" caption="League of Superheroes"]League of Superheroes[/caption]

League of Superheroes

By Stephen L. Rice

ISBN: 193428405X

Radiation explains so many superhero powers, it's refreshing to see a more unique method of creating them. And to find a superhero book that classifies as science fiction instead of fantasy is even more rare. If that interest you, you're likely to find this book a refreshing read.

It is an origin story, no doubt. But Mr. Rice does a good job of keeping it interesting. A mysterious girl named Genie starts talking to Clarice in a chat room. She ends up bringing in her brother Allan and his friends into the discussion. Next thing you know, this mysterious girl is shipping them suits that enable them to do as much and more than what their favorite comic book superheroes can do.

But the real questions are who is she, how can she do this, and why is she doing it? The answer to those questions leads them to discover whether being a superhero involves more than super powers.

This book is a fun read for people of all ages even though it is directed toward young adults. It is well written, and the characters are fun. The plot keeps you wondering what will happen next. On the book as a whole, I'd have to say I enjoyed it and would recommend it hardily to anyone seeking a book to give to a child, teen, or even an older "child" who enjoys superhero stories.

If I were to fault the book for anything, it would be sometimes the story gets too bogged down in the technical details of how everything works. For the geek, this is interesting. And I don't mind some of that myself, but I found at certain points wishing we could skip the explanations and get on with the story. And to that end, it seemed the distribution of the suits dribbled out. In some ways, that would be truer to life, yes. But it slowed the story down. Despite that, Mr. Rice kept the pace overall on a good foot. So while I had those problems, it didn't mar the story significantly.

It should also be mentioned that this book has Christian characters written by a Christian. Mr. Rice does a good job of not doing a lot of preaching through this story, though you will find some messages coming through here and there. However, those are natural to the characters and the story. Most people whether religious or not, will enjoy it for what it is: teens from various backgrounds dealing with the moral dilemmas of gaining such powers and how to use them.

I enjoyed reading this story. It makes a great stocking stuffer for the reader in your family. And who knows, you might find yourself picking it up and getting sucked into it. I look forward to more stories about these kids in the future from this author.

Buy League of Superheroes at:, Barnes and Noble, Writer's Cafe Press (publisher), and other online and bookstore outlets.