Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Tag: John Ringo

Life has been interesting

The blog has been silent for the last several weeks and I apologize for that. I won’t bore you with all the details but life has been interesting and there are just some times when it is best not to say anything. No, nothing is wrong with me or mine — well, nothing that dropping temps below triple digits won’t cure. The simple truth is that I had to pull back from social media for a bit or I was going to do or say something I would regret. This political season seems to have brought out the worst in everyone. Making matters even worse is that it doesn’t seem limited to just politics. It is as if some cosmic force hit most of humanity with a stupid bat. Or maybe a contrary bat. I’m not sure which but I swear almost every ounce of common sense seems to have gone down the drain. So has common courtesy.

So, instead of going ballistic here or on FB or elsewhere, I stepped back. Yes, I’ve been busy. I have to start out by giving kudos to everyone who helped with the Bedford (TX) Library Friends book sale this weekend. The sale was a roaring success and well worth all the hard work everyone put in on it. For those of you who live in the DFW area, if you haven’t discovered the Bedford Public Library, take a few minutes to do so. I think it is the best library around and the staff is the friendliest and most helpful there is.

I’ve also been busy on the writing front. The draft for Dagger of Elanna the sequel to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), is finished. I am working on the second draft — which is usually what goes out to beta readers. I hope to have it done by then end of next week. I have also finished the outline (something I rarely do to the detail it happened this time) for a novel that will sort of bridge Slay Bells Ring and Skeletons in the Closet. This novel uses characters from both and brings in some of the supernatural/paranormal elements from Skeletons. I know. I know. My muse is strange but this is the book it demanded I take time out to get the details down before I could go back to Dagger. I also have Victory from Ashes, the final book in the current story arc for Honor and Duty (3 Book Series), plotted out. So there has been writing going on — plus I have been editing a wonderful first novel by a friend of mine. More on that after I send back the edits (hopefully this weekend).

Oh, I have also done a lot of reading. I highly recommend the latest in the Monster Hunter International series. Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge. I had been looking forward to this for quite awhile, ever since John Ringo started posting snippets on FB. Yes, my friends, this is what we have all been looking forward to — and what a certain group of folks have dreaded. John Ringo and Larry Correia have joined forced to product Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge. It is a great read, lots of fun and, while it is definitely Ringo, it is also Correia. I cannot wait for the next book to come out. Fair warning. I am not responsible for any lost sleep you experience because you can’t put the book down, nor am I responsible for any ruined keyboards, etc., caused during the reading of this book. Ringo. Correia. ‘Nuff said.

I also read a series of books by a well-known, non-Baen author. While most were enjoyable, I noticed something that really bothered me as the series progressed. The women in the books, each book featured a different member of a close group of women as one of the two main characters, started out being competent, strong and still women. They weren’t “men with boobs”. Initially, they didn’t need a man to “save” them. But, as the series went on, even the strongest of the women turned into something I kept expecting to have the vapors and faint dead away in an oh-so-ladylike swoon. As this happened, their male counterparts became more alpha — to the point where they weren’t particularly likable.

In some ways, reading this series was like watching a train wreck. You know it isn’t going to get any better but you keep hoping. Then you get to the point where you don’t want to look away. You want to see just how bad it will get. Then, that part of your brain that reminds you that you can learn even from badly crafted writing, you keep reading and making notes so this doesn’t happen to your books.

What I did like was the way the author made the setting and the town itself something close to characters by the end of the series. But I found myself not cheering the leads in the last few books. That’s a hard thing for me to excuse, especially in books where you are supposed to identify with the characters, when you are supposed to hope everything works out for them in the end. Instead, I was really hoping for a precision missile strike.

Characters are supposed to grow. They are supposed to meet challenges and sometimes make mistakes. They have to stumble and even fall on occasion. But you don’t take strong characters and, without explanation or warning, turn them into wilting flowers who need someone to protect them and stand up for them. If, in book one, the main lead is a strong, capable woman — be she a cop or computer nerd or whatever — who doesn’t hesitate to do whatever is needed to protect herself or her family/friends, don’t have her waiting behind like a “good little girl” while the men go off to deal with the bad guy in later books. At least don’t do it without explaining why she suddenly not only lives with a bunch of macho chauvinists but accepts and likes being “put in her place”. If you have a character who is a medical professional and who is willing to risk her life for a stranger, don’t have her agreeing not to do everything she can to save her sister a few books later because it might put her in danger — at least not without a valid explanation of why.

In other words, this particular author set up a world and expectations for their characters and then broke the rules without foreshadowing or explanation. I hate that. But it did serve as a reminder that it is easy to do — especially if you are feeling deadline pressures and decide that taking the easy way out will be okay just this once.

And now I am back — back to writing, back to blogging and back to being a pain in the backside of my muse.

Beginnings

The opening sequence of a novel has always been the hardest part for me. Oh, I know what I want to say — or at least I think I do — but somehow when I sit down at the keyboard, it just doesn’t come. There will be fits and starts before I finally get it. That may take days or, in some cases, even weeks before I have an opening I’m satisfied with and, once that happens, the rest of the novel usually flows easily.

I’m not sure why that opening scene or chapter is so difficult. Sarah Hoyt told me early into our friendship that the problem a lot of new writers have is starting a novel either a chapter too soon or too late. Then she went on to tell me to simply write the first chapter as it comes and not obsess about it. After all, material can be added or deleted during edits. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple for me.

And that has been part of the problem with Victory from Ashes. I have the very rough — and I do mean very rough — draft completed. But I knew I had an issue with the opening. When putting that first draft together, I really didn’t even bother writing a first chapter. It was a series of notes and that’s about it. While that helped with the first pass, it did nothing to help with the current draft version.

So I have struggled for the past couple of weeks, trying to get that first chapter written. It simply wasn’t coming. Instead of beating my head against the wall, I drafted out three short stories and did other work. All the while, the opening of Victory continued to percolate in the back of my mind. Yesterday, I’d finally had enough. I needed to sit down and write, whether the chapter came or not.

With that in mind, I did what I suggest to my critique group: I moved to a different work area and I wrote in a different manner. In this case, I used pencil and paper. With my notes in hand, I sat at the kitchen table and gave my muse free rein. Thankfully for my muse’s continued existence, she decided to cooperate and the words started flowing and, with them, the realization of what had been blocking me.

I’d made a wrong turn at the end of Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). No, nothing serious and nothing that impacts that book. It was just a decision made by a character about something that was supposed to happen in Victory from Ashes. Fixable, in fact, easily fixable, but I had to recognize the problem first. Then I had to figure out how to deal with the decision and change that character’s mind. Until my subconscious did all that, I was at a standstill.

Fortunately, my subconscious did just that and, over the next hour or two, 2,700 words flowed. No, not all by hand. What happened was I wrote a page or two longhand and that jogged the brain and I was then able to return to the keyboard. With coffee at hand, I pounded out a chapter that feels right and that got the problematic decision corrected. Even better, it allowed me to show a new facet of growth for Ashlyn. Best of all, it means the rest of the work of wrestling the very rough draft into a workable draft will flow easily.

Not that I won’t take time out this week to finish the first short story in the Honor and Duty universe. My plan is to have it up by Friday. If everything goes according to plan, there will be one short story every two weeks. Of course, life being what it is, I know there may be bumps along the way. That is one reason I’ve already done the rough drafts for all three stories.

What this also means is, if the muse continues to cooperate, I will begin snippeting Victory later this week. Most likely, Wednesday. In the meantime, here are some books I recommend as well as a shout out to a game being released later today.

Through Fire (Darkship Book 4)

Sarah A. Hoyt

A new chapter in Hoyt’s celebrated Darkship series dawns with revolution on Earth as the Good Men fall.

DOWN WITH THE TYRANNY OF THE GOOD MEN!

A spaceship mechanic has no place in a fairytale. But now Zen Sienna finds herself in a beautiful palace being courted by the ruler of vast lands. Yet soon Zen is caught up in a revolution that comes a bit too close to imitating the original French revolution—complete with beheadings. Swept up in a turmoil of fire and blood, she must find her footing. Torn by divided loyalties, unexpectedly in charge of protecting the innocent while trying to stop the guilty, Zen discovers both her inner strength and discovers who will remain true friends and comrades, and who will be revealed as enemies in disguise waiting to strike!

Through the fire of revolution and war, Zen must earn her citizenship on Earth and find her place in a world that’s totally changed.

TOM

Dave Freer

Tom is a cat in trouble. The worst possible kind of trouble: he’s been turned into a human. Transformed by an irascible old magician in need of a famulus — a servant and an assistant, Tom is as good at being a servant as a cat ever is. The assistant part is more to Tom’s taste: he rather fancies impressing the girl cats and terrorizing the other toms by transforming himself into a tiger. But the world of magic, a vanished and cursed princess, and a haunted skull, and a demon in the chamber-pot, to say nothing of conspiring wizards and the wickedest witch in the west, all seem to be out to kill Tom. He is a cat coming to terms with being a boy, dealing with all this. He has a raven and a cheese as… sort of allies.

And of course there is the princess.

If you were looking for ‘War and Peace’ this is the wrong book for you. It’s a light-hearted and gently satirical fantasy, full of terrible puns and… cats.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge

Larry Correia and John Ringo

TWO MULTIPLE NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHORS TEAM UP TO EXPAND LARRY CORREIA’S MONSTER HUNTER UNIVERSE!

When Marine Private Oliver Chadwick Gardenier is killed in the Marine barrack bombing in Beirut, somebody who might be Saint Peter gives him a choice: Go to Heaven, which while nice might be a little boring, or return to Earth. The Boss has a mission for him and he’s to look for a sign. He’s a Marine: He’ll choose the mission.

Unfortunately, the sign he’s to look for is “57.” Which, given the food services contract in Bethesda Hospital, creates some difficulty. Eventually, it appears that God’s will is for Chad to join a group called “Monster Hunters International” and protect people from things that go bump in the night. From there, things trend downhill.

Monster Hunter Memoirs is the (mostly) true story of the life and times of one of MHI’s most effective—and flamboyant—hunters. Pro-tips for up and coming hunters range from how to dress appropriately for jogging (low-profile body armor and multiple weapons) to how to develop contacts among the Japanese yakuza, to why it’s not a good idea to make billy goat jokes to trolls.

Grunge harkens back to the Golden Days of Monster Hunting when Reagan was in office, Ray and Susan Shackleford were top hunters and Seattle sushi was authentic.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Available for PS4, XBox One and PC

  • First-Person Action – Get up close with your enemies. Use your freedom of movement and martial arts combat in conjunction with the environment to experience fluid first-person action unlike any other.
  • Explore the City of Glass – Roam the beautiful, high-tech city at your own pace, and unlock its many different districts. Run free and explore every corner from the highest, glass made skyscrapers to the hidden underground tunnels.
  • Witness the Rise of Faith – Brought up on her own on the margin of the totalitarian society, Faith found refuge amongst an outsider group called the Runners. Learn about her origin story, and take part in her journey as she stands up against oppression and becomes the catalyst that can change the City of Glass forever.

And people wonder . . .

It’s Labor Day. I had planned to take the day off from blogging, only reminding everyone that the 2nd Annual Indie Author Labor Day Sale is coming to an end. But no, that day off isn’t to be. It can’t be. Not when one of the first things I see when I boot up my computer is a supposed screen capture of someone saying that reading a book is a “terribly inefficient” way of finding out if it is any good. I admit, even recognizing the name of the person who supposedly made the tweet and the person who posted it, I had to wonder if it was real. After all, it seemed so out there — well past the left field fence — that it had to be a joke. Right?

Wrong.

I went to the twitterverse and looked it up for myself. And, yep, there it was, in all its glory.

Capture

Now, my head didn’t explode on that but it was a near thing.

My first thought as I read the comment was to wonder how the tweeter thought we ought to go about finding out what a book is about if we don’t read it. What could be more efficient that reading it? A blurb only gives the general feel for what a book is about. A review is one person’s opinion about the book and may or may not be accurate. We could listen to the book as an audio book but that would be even more inefficient, at least if you talk the time it takes to listen to a book vs. read it. So what would be more efficient?

My next thought was to wonder how, if reading a book wasn’t the most efficient way, we are to determine if a book is any good. Best sellers lists are artificial lists based on pre-orders of a book. Pre-orders. That means only reviewers, beta readers, a few lucky fans and editors and agents have read the book. Oh, wait, maybe I’m starting to see something here. Maybe we should pay attention to what the so-called gatekeepers say is good. Hmm, the problem with that is it leaves out so many books that are either small press or indie published or aren’t being pushed as much by the traditional publishers.

Maybe we should wait to see what our teachers tell us is good. The problem with that is it means we won’t be reading much that doesn’t already qualify as “classic”. And what about those of us who are out of school? Are we supposed to just stop reading because we don’t have an educator guiding our reading?

All of that may be true but the sheer gall of the tweeter is what gets me. From this one comment, it is easy to draw the conclusion that he believes a reader isn’t smart enough to be able to judge which books are good and which ones are not. Worse, he apparently feels we need help discovering the meaning of the books we read. That apparent arrogance is part of the reason why there is a rift right now in the science fiction family. There are too many who feel the reader isn’t capable of determining what is or is not “good”.

Now, “good” to me might not be “good” to you and that’s okay. We each of different tastes and different reasons for reading something. But to say that reading a book is not the most efficient way of finding out what it’s about and telling whether or not it is good is beyond me. What are readers supposed to do? Have the author on speed dial so they can call and ask for a detailed description of not only the plot but all the themes and messages in the book? Give me a break.

Yes, it is just one tweet but it is indicative of the attitude of a vocal group of folks who would like to keep the fans (as opposed to Fans) out of the Hugo nominations. The unwashed masses who buy their books and recommend those thy like aren’t, apparently, capable of knowing what a book is about and whether it is good or not. (The only reason I saw the tweet in the first place is because there is someone who has taken it upon themselves to keep an eye on the anti-puppy folks and keep us informed about what’s going on.)

Note, the tweeter said “good”, not “classic”.

So here’s the way I feel about it. Reading a book is the most efficient way of determining what a book is about and whether or not it is good. Why? Because you will have actually read it. You will have had the chance to see the way the author wove together the different elements into a plot. You will have seen the nuances, the character development, the emotions she was able to evoke as she painted her story with words. There is no more efficient way of finding out what a book is about than holding it in your hands and seeing the author’s words at work. Every other way of finding out what a book is about and whether or not it is good relies on the attitudes and tastes and impressions of others and that, in my opinion, is inefficient.

Let me put it to you this way. There are all sorts of books out there that “people” tell us are “good” and that they are quick to tell us what the book is about. We are told we should like the book because it’s “good”. Yet, not matter how hard we try, we just can’t like the book and what they saw in the book we don’t. No way, no how. Then there’s the flip side of the coin. Books we are told are horrid and awful and yet we find are entertaining and with meanings we can identify with or at least understand.

For me, one of the books I was told I should love because it was “good” was Da Vinci Code. I hated the book. The history and research was more than questionable. I didn’t like the writing style. The message, if you want to call it that, was trite and done many times before. But, according to the critics and best sellers lists, it was “good”. Books I shouldn’t like because “bad” would be John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series. After all, it’s bad because it is written by a white male, comes from Baen Books, has guns and explosions and not nearly enough (check off the list of whatever type of character). Yet, to me, the series is good because 1) it held my interest and entertained me, 2) it doesn’t hide the fact that good people can and possibly will do bad things in a bad situation if survival depends on it, 3) it is an example of a family fighting to stay together and survive without losing all their humanity in the process, 4) it paints a scenario that is scarily possible, and 5) it had characters I could cheer for — and hiss at — and who I cared about.

So, what about you guys? What do you think?

 

An update and reading for pleasure

Sorry for the silence, everyone, but real life has been kicking my butt. The rehab on the injured Achilles is ongoing and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, my 80+ year old mother has not been doing real well this past week. Nothing terribly serious but bad enough that it has impacted her not only physically but emotionally and that, in turn, impacts me. Things are finally starting to loo up there, so I hope life is getting back to normal.

Like a lot of folks, when I get stressed I read. I read for enjoyment and for escape. I turn off the editor hat and all I want it to be taken for a ride that takes me away from whatever is worrying me. It may be humorous or it may be serious. It may take me on flights to other worlds or drop me into a dystopian future. It doesn’t matter as long as the plot makes sense, it grabs me and holds me and I care for the characters. Hell, there can even be a message — just don’t preach at me. Let it be part of the story, not so much buried but carefully woven so that it isn’t glaringly obvious and takes away from the story. Remember, if I want a sermon, I’ll go to church. Believe me, my pastor is much better at delivering a sermon than any writer I know.

So when real life hit so hard earlier this week that I could not deal with writing or editing, I reached for my Kindle and looked at my to be read pile. It’s a big pile but there were a couple of things that jumped out at me. One of them actually had me kicking myself. Sitting near the top of the list was Strands of Sorrow (Black Tide Rising), the fourth book in John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series. A smile touched my lips to see the title and I started to open the book. Then I realized it had been awhile since I had read the previous titles in the series. Some of the details were more than a little fuzzy. So, in stead of opening Strands of Sorrow and beginning it, I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I opened a book I had already read and started rereading it.

The first book in the series is Under a Graveyard Sky (Black Tide Rising Book 1).  When I first picked up the book, I did so more because I have enjoyed most of Ringo’s work. I will even admit I was hesitant because this was unlike anything Ringo had written before, at least on the surface. Then there was the fact it was about zombies and, well, I don’t like zombies, at least not in my books. But Ringo, as he has done so many times before, surprised me. To begin with, the book wasn’t the typical Zombie Apocalypse book and these weren’t your usual zombies. These weren’t walking dead out looking for brains. Nope, the ZA was the result of something that has always been one of my fears — someone creating a virus of sorts that is released and sweeps the globe like a pandemic, or worse.

Then there was the fact that the main characters weren’t bad ass soldiers and the bad guys weren’t major corporations or, gasp, the government. The real bad guy is some unknown, faceless man or woman who, as the ZA spreads, quickly becomes almost irrelevant as the survivors simply struggle to survive and thrive.

Yes, thrive. You see, the real heroes in the Under a Graveyard Sky happen to a family. An ex-pat Aussie who is now an American citizen, his wife and their two daughters. They, along with his brother, are what most of us would call preppers but that just doesn’t begin to explain what they are. Preppers don’t hold a candle to what Steve Smith and his family were. Steve and his brother Tom knew what could happen in the world of the here and now. They knew it might come from war or it might come from terrorism or it might come from someone just being stupid. They had plans in place and they had prepared to execute them based on the circumstances surrounding whatever the emergency might be.

This is a family that will do whatever it takes to stay together and to survive. But there is more. This isn’t a family that just strikes out to find an isolated place to wait out the ZA. Sure, that might have been the original plan but when they start coming across survivors, and when the scope of the ZA starts to become apparent, they realize they can’t just ride it out. If humanity is to survive, they have to do something. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option.

If that means doing things no “civilized” person would do, you do it. You try to protect and shield your children the best you can but you recognize that you’re no longer in Kansas and this isn’t Oz. You regret that your kids don’t get the childhood they deserved, that there will be no prom, etc., but it is better to live than die.

Are some of the scenarios presented in the book unrealistic? Sure, by the standards of what we have right now. But, if I found myself and my family in the middle of a ZA, I hope we could cope half as well as Steve Smith and family.

Oh, Ringo also avoids the one mistake so many do in this sort of book. Not all of his characters are heroes or villains. There is no black and white line between good and evil. There are more than a few characters, minor to be sure but necessary to the worldbuilding, who are what could best be called drains on society. These are the ones who refuse to pitch in and do the work, often repugnant by our standards, to survive. Whether they are lazy or privileged in their prior lives and unable to adapt, it doesn’t matter. Instead of instantly culling them out of the the society that is slowly growing around what will come to be known as Wolf Squadron, Smith gives them a chance to change their minds. Even if they don’t, he doesn’t kill them. At least not outright. Eventually, they will be given ships or landed someplace where they can either survive by their own means or not. He is not responsible.

Nor should he and the others of Wolf Squadron be. We’re not talking here about culling out the sick and aged. We are talking about letting those who refuse to pull their own weight sink or swim by their own hand. A hard choice? Sure, but when you are in the middle of a ZA, it sure as hell beats letting them drag everyone else down into death.

Is there a message in the book? I don’t know if Ringo would say there is or not. To me, sure. There are several. Be prepared. Be aware. Be informed. Family. Loyalty. Duty. And not necessarily in that order.

I’d go on and discuss the next book in the series,To Sail a Darkling Sea (Black Tide Rising Book 2), but this has already gone on long enough. I’ll talk about it and the other books in the series over the next week. For now, all I can say is if you haven’t read Under a Graveyard Sky (Black Tide Rising Book 1) yet, do so. Don’t be fooled by the “zombie” theme. This isn’t your usual ZA novel and it is a rip-roaring good time that will leave you thinking and wanting more.

 

 

 

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