Archive for October, 2016

Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen The Walking Dead season 7 episode 2 on October 30th, turn back now! This is your only warning.

This isn’t a review, but more of a look at the successes and failures of storytelling through mass media. I think last night’s episode was a clear success based solely on the characterization, but the storytelling was well done, too.

Although last week’s episode was the big reveal, this episode was even more revealing. Morgan and Carol are back, rescued by people from The Kingdom.

Now, I love the renaissance festival, but at first glance, The Kingdom isn’t such a place. Until you meet King Ezekiel and Shiva.

 

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“Hast thou come to feast upon pomegranates?”

 

It’s a great form of characterization for this show. We’ve seen a deceptive character before in the Governor, and his attempt to make Woodberry seem like Main Street, but his deception was for a sinister purpose. Carol can also be deceptive, hiding her true  nature to give her the upper hand. Ezekiel is something new. He’s a character playing a character, not for deception but to keep his people’s minds at ease.

At first, it’s easy to think that maybe he’s unstable and perhaps has a mental illness. After the fall of civilization, a person with delusions of grandeur could be given the opportunity to live out their own reality. Carol is barely able to contain herself when she meets him, and I think her face said what those of us who haven’t read that far in the comics were all thinking.

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As we learn, however; Ezekiel has not fallen off his rocker. He knows he’s not the king. Showing up with a tiger made him legendary, and he just went along with it, using his time in Community Theater as a jumping off point. The people like having a king and painting his quotes all over the town in scrolling font. (Do they have a stencil or did a calligrapher survive?)

Okay, so maybe it still is a little nutty, but at least they aren’t carving up people and roasting them on an open fire. When you really think about it, running around in armor with swords, spears, cleavers, and bows and arrows really isn’t that much different than what our own group of survivors has been up to. Daryl with his crossbow, Michonne with her samurai sword, and even Rick with his axe are merely missing the fake accent and regal titles. Plus, most of the people in the kingdom are dressed as modern day people and they even have guns on hand for emergencies. It’s an interesting mix.

They’re also under contract with Negan’s army. One of the things I enjoyed most about last night’s episode was the subtle rebellion. Ezekiel doesn’t want to risk the lives of his people, but he also knows the Saviors are bad. So, they feed the pigs walkers. This is an interesting concept and brings up some questions.

First, do the pigs turn from eating the contaminated meat? We don’t know and they are soon butchered off camera1. Secondly, the fact that pigs are fine eating a still squirming walker is kind of terrifying. I know pigs can chew through bone, and eat rotten food, but this is a whole other level. Last, if you eat meat from an animal that has eaten a walker, can you be turned? This last question is interesting because it’s kind of like marinating the pig from the inside. Corn fed cows taste different than grass fed cows. Does bacon from a walker fed pig have a strange taste?

If it is the making the Saviors sick, they haven’t noticed it yet.

Also, Ezekiel hasn’t told his people about the Saviors. He’s done this on purpose to prevent them from wanting to fight. The situation wears heavily on those who know, as is evidenced by the knight who gets into a scuffle with a Savior. It’s clear that Ezekiel understands the danger where others do not, and makes me wonder what he’s seen or been through with Negan. Then again, he was a zookeeper tending to tigers, which gives him insight into dealing with unpredictable wild animals.

There was also great characterization this week for Morgan and Carol. They have both been shaken to the core. Morgan is hiding it a little better, trying to resolve who he was with what he became and what he needs to be. He’s a man in a crisis of faith. Carol, however; is on the opposite end. She’s seen her confidence in what she became crumble and hated what she saw: an angel of death. They are the same but different, and somehow they both need to find the middle.

I’m curious to see what Carol learns from her solitude, and what her actual plan turns out to be. With the Saviors running around it’s hard to believe she’ll be left alone living right off of the road in her little house.

Also, how will they respond when they find out what happened with Rick and Company?

Next week it looks like we’re going to meet up with Daryl and what tortures are in store. Will Burned Face Guy switch sides? Is the teaser trailer only teasing? Maybe we’ll find out, or we won’t.

Other thoughts:

Shiva eats as much as ten people. What are they feeding her? Walkers? She seems happy.

Carol moved into such a cute little house with its own gothic cemetery. There has to be a story there.

Could Ezekiel be the key to healing both Carol and Morgan… and maybe even Rick?

The Kingdom is a nice little town, too bad all I could think was “this place is going up in flames.”

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add, please feel free to leave a comment.

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To celebrate the one year anniversary of my first book, I am offering it for free today on Amazon! It’s hard to imagine that a whole year has already passed, and it is only the beginning of my publishing journey.

You can pick up a free eBook copy at the links below.

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That’s right, you’re hearing it here first (unless you follow me on Twitter.) I’ve signed up for National Novel Writing Month for the first time every. (Hurray!)

Because this is a writing contest and technically Book Three has been written before (it’s just very dismembered and in need of much repair,) I will not be working on it for NaNoWriMo. Instead, I’m going to be taking on an entirely new project that has been simmering for some months.

As you may know, I’m a “plantser.” I don’t really plot and I don’t really fly by the skin of my teeth, but I do a bit of both. This is a rare instance where I’ve actually a pre-written synopsis of the story. It’s not an outline, but it is. Sort of. A disorganized organization type of outline, my favorite. I don’t do that very often, or ever, so that was a sign that this project needs to get off the ground.

 

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It all starts with a blank page.

 

What is this project, you ask? It’s a fantasy with hints of mystery and horror. Set in a non-Western inspired  civilization, it has a loose comparison to 1001 Arabian Knights with a female protagonist relying on her wits to get her through unexpected situations. Unlike Sharaezade, however; my protagonist will be up against forces she doesn’t fully understand.

What does this mean for my other projects such as Book Three and The Hunted? Well, The Hunted will continue to get updated through November, perhaps once or twice. I’ll be starting on Book Three once NaNoWriMo is over, so December or January. My goal is to have it out by the end of 2017, as that will be the 20 year anniversary of its inception.

If you’re also participating in NaNoWriMo you can find me as RR Willica (shocking, I know!) I’ll be leaving updates on the blog with my progress.

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave a comment.

 

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I previously reviewed the first book in this series: Tails by Rails. I was looking forward to the second instalment of the Rays of Sunshine series, and I was not disappointed. In fact, the second book is better than the first, which says a lot since the first was very good.

Jewel E. Leonard is a master of characterization. Her characters all feel like real people that you could run into on the street. This was true of Rhea (pronounced Ray) and Adam in the first book, and it continued in the second book with a growing cast of characters. The newest edition being Brianna, an acquaintance from Rhea’s high school years.

Besides the excellent characterization, Leonard knows how to pace her story. Her descriptions are vivid without being overwrought. The storytelling stays on track through all of the twists and turns, guiding the reader through conflict, steamy encounters, and the real-life drama that is both believable and true to the heart of each character.

My only complaint about this book is that it ended. I would have loved to have followed Rhea through many more chapters of her life. I’m hoping that there will more books in this series so that I can do just that.

Be aware that if you pick up Tails by Rails or Smiles by Trials, I would rate it M for Mature due to sexual content and strong language.

I give Smiles by Trials 5 Stars.

Five Star

You can purchase the book on Amazon.

You can also follow Jewel E. Leonard on Twitter @JewelELeonard and on her blog.

 

 

This post will contain spoilers of not only the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead, but also the season six finale. If you haven’t watched these episodes, you’ve been warned.

First off, this isn’t a review. I like to analyze mass media as a means to understand the successes and failures of storytelling. What follows is my intellectual opinion.

Way back in April I discussed why the season six finale of The Walking Dead was such a disappointment. I had a lot to say at the time. Six months later, I do not feel any differently.

I’m going to come right out of the gate and say that the season seven premiere should have been the season six finale. It holds all of the key elements of storytelling that were missing and still ends with a cliffhanger, although a slightly different type. Instead of “The Lady or the Tiger” ending we are left more with “What are we going to do now? Everything is in ruins.”

I have nothing against cliffhangers. I actually use them in my own writing, but they need to be finely crafted and utilized correctly. There are three reasons to end a story on a cliffhanger.

1)      To compel the audience to return to a story after an unspecified break in the narrative.

2)      To open a dialogue about the story, either internally or with other audience members, that further drives emotional investment in the story.

3)      To assure the audience that there will be a continuation even when the current story has come to a close.

It can be argued that the season six finale accomplished these things, and it did. People were compelled to return to see who would take a bat to the head. There was a very vocal, and often angry, dialogue happening in the audience. There would definitely be more story, because how could it end like that without a resolution? (Although in the world of television there is no real guarantee that the show will return, although we all safely knew this one would.)

So what’s the problem?

The problem comes down to the underlying storytelling, which had been shaky for the duration of the season. The audience was annoyed already about the “close calls” that Glenn endured. Add to that the finale dragging out in a log repetitive sequence of events, and then coming to a close mid-action. If they had moved the story down the line to where the premiere ended, with a fitting sendoff for two major characters, and tie the season up in an emotional package brimming with questions about the future.

Consider the premiere of season six. It begins with a strange flashback episode. Everyone in Alexandria is working together to build a zombie funnel to lead the walkers in the quarry away from the town. We learn this in a patchwork of pieces.

Now consider the premiere of season seven. It utilizes a very similar device to drag out the truth of who took the bat, and had it been the finale, it would have been a balance to the premiere. Instead, it’s just a “filler” tactic, and that whole story with Negan and the axe could have been told after the death instead of before.

Rick’s character arc is another package that could have utilized in the finale. All season he was riding high on his ego, believing that he and his crew were the biggest of the bad and nothing could tear them down. To watch him break beneath Negan’s smiling face was incredibly important to the story, a piece of the puzzle that could have simmered in our minds for six months. Negan is a special kind of monster, and to have had a proper introduction last season would have given us time to build him up even bigger while we waited.

Next, we have Glenn’s “fake deaths” throughout season six, teasing the truth. Had the season seven opener been the finale, it would have tied those strings together. Of course, it’s emotional. Glenn is a beloved major character with a pregnant wife. No matter when he died it would have been a blow to the audience. However, from a storytelling point of view, it could have been handled better.

We also have the story arc with Abraham, Sasha, and Rosita in a very awkward love triangle. Abraham is more of a comic relief type character, and by putting six months between any emotional attachments the audience may have had about their situation, which makes it far less powerful than if it had happened when it was fresh.This is especially true because his relationship with Rosita was never really a focus of the show until that point. It also makes his relationship with Sasha feel contrived. What was the point of it? So that Sasha could lose another person she cared about?

This is especially true because his relationship with Rosita was never really a focus of the show until that point. It also makes his relationship with Sasha feel contrived. What was the point of it? So that Sasha could lose another person she cared about? It was merely added to give some sort of emotional attachment to Abraham. More development between him and Eugene would have served this purpose in a more organic way.

Lastly, we have the scene of the whole cast at the table enjoying a meal, with Glenn and Abraham at the head. A beautiful world destroyed by one crazy man with a bat. Having that as the last image of season six would have left the community in a much darker, much more immersive sendoff for the two major characters.

 

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“Hey, man, nice axe.”

 

Now that we’ve looked at why this should have been the finale, let’s look at the foreshadowing that was given to us multiple times to make sure we didn’t miss it.

“This is my axe.”

Rick may be broken now, but he is still the protagonist; the anti-hero. Negan is the antagonist. That means that the conflict will continue until it is resolved. Will we lose more of our favorite characters along the way? There’s a high probability that we will. However; I have a feeling we already know how Negan is going to die.

Rick has used the axe for a long time now. It has been nothing more than a prop, more noticeable than a kitchen knife but not as iconic as Michonne’s sword or Daryl’s crossbow. It’s not overly flashy or recognizable, just an axe that could be sold at your local hardware store.

This season the axe has taken  a prominent place in the story and becoming a focal point for the conflict. If Negan doesn’t meet his end by the axe being driven into his cocky smirk and I’m totally wrong here, it will be a missed opportunity. What a perfect way to tie up the story arc in a neat little package. Of course, we already know The Walking Dead doesn’t like neat packages, even the kind that strengthens their storytelling.

Other Thoughts

  • Are Negan’s people truly loyal or do they function solely on fear? Fear is a great manipulator but there are more minions than there are Negans, the right leader merely needs to appear to start the rebellion.
  • Negan took Daryl instead of killing him, and although having a hostage is a great ploy, it would have been stronger to take Carl or Michonne. There is likely more to Negan’s reasoning in taking him than he let on.
  • Will Maggie lose the baby? Perhaps she will lose her mind? Or maybe she will be the next angel of death seeking revenge in a world that is far too cruel.
  • Will Carol and Morgan find the reinforcements that are desperately needed in the fight against the Saviors? Or were those weird guys last season more bad guys?

Hopefully, we have answers to these questions throughout the season.

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PART SIX
Opportunity Knocks

Gray morning light cast long shadows of the heavy four-poster bed across the small chamber. The heavy furniture was too large for the space it occupied, leaving little room to move around. The dark wood bed, oversized wardrobe, and writing desk with matching chair were all that was needed, logically, but Lexanna did not enjoy being cramped and felt she would spend little time in her temporary home.

Sitting up in the bed, she noticed the wardrobe was left open. A selection of new garments in a rainbow of colors hung patiently waiting to be selected. It was difficult not to feel guilty when such generosity was being bestowed, while she was being unappreciative of having been taken in for no other reason than to be married to the best candidate.

“I’ll just have to make the best of it,” she whispered

Selecting a dark blue skirt and matching peplum fringed jacket, along with a crisp white high collared blouse, Lexanna dressed herself with some difficulty cinching and tying her corset alone. Thankfully, she also found an array of hats, one for each of the ensembles. Hopefully, what was on her head would draw attention away from her poorly secured waistline.

She stood before a mirror in an oversized gold frame that hung on the wall to brush and twist her black hair into a neat bun, then pinned hat and all in securely in place. Examining herself she decided that it felt strange to be dressed in a fashion she had been accustomed to after weeks of borrowed clothes. Although her life had been spent dressed in finery, her reflection appeared alien.

Upon exiting her bedchamber, she found the apartment empty and cold in its silence. The heels from her boots pounded loudly on the wooden floor as she crossed to the staircase, and she was relieved to descend the stone steps.

Her mission was to find the apprentice dining hall and breakfast. The Ossuary was a daunting labyrinth of corridors and she was dismayed to realize she did not remember the way back to the foyer. Good fortune was with her, however; as a group of young men and women dressed in pale blue robes were all walking together and conversing in jovial tones.

Lexanna followed behind them at a modest distance and was pleased to discover they had led her where she needed to go. The dining hall was located in the newer part of the Ossuary. The stark white walls towered above into the peak of a vaulted ceiling run through with dark wooden beams. Along the left side of the room, large windows overlooked the courtyard. Rows of heavy wooden tables and chairs ran in two columns down the length of the room, with the kitchen at the far end. The apprentices lined up along the wall to collect their breakfast. Lexanna joined them and was fully aware of the odd looks cast in her direction.

She did her best to smile and appear pleasant. Never had she imagined how many students were being trained at the Ossuary. She always believed the gift of magic was a rare one, but possibly one hundred men and women were in attendance.

“It’s not as frightening as you may think,” a male voice whispered from behind, and she jumped. “Magicians only bite when they aren’t well fed.”

A tall, slender young man stood in line behind her, smiling at his perceived cleverness.  Dressed in a pale blue robe like all the others, he must be an apprentice. For a brief moment, she wondered if he would be a contender for her hand, then disregarded it. Hilena wouldn’t marry a magicless girl to a real magician, apprentice or otherwise.

“I don’t find it frightening at all.”

“Your expression said otherwise.” He took a moment to look her over and cocked an eyebrow. “Are you new to the Ossuary? Or did your robes have a laundering accident?”

“I’m not a student. My name is Lexanna Nidkren and Hilena Grasen has taken me in as her ward.” She knew what dropping her last name would accomplish, and she was not disappointed.

“Nidkren? As in Grivwald and Morianne Nidkren?” His smile faded and the cracks in his charm became apparent.

“That’s right.” It was her turn to smile, although she tried to hide it.

“Perhaps you would allow me to show you around the city once my tasks for the day have been completed?” He spoke with such haste he stumbled over his own words.

She was surprised at the offer. “I’ve introduced myself yet you remain a stranger.”

It was fun to watch him become flustered by his misstep in etiquette. “I apologize. Gareth Orbern, at your service.” He bowed his head to her politely. She did her best to contain her amusement at his awkwardness.

The name Orbern was vaguely familiar, although she couldn’t recall any close acquaintances to her parents from that family. They arrived at the head of the line and she turned her attention away from him to an impressive array of fare stretched the length of a long buffet. She liberally filled her plate without concern of what the other students might think.

“It was a pleasure to meet you,” she said politely to Gareth before retreating to the empty end of a table near the dining hall door.

She turned to discover he had chosen to follow her and sat across from her. Didn’t he have any friends? Lexanna tried to smile.

“It must be a great honor to be Hilena’s ward,” Gareth said before taking a bite of his food.

“My parents are dead.”

Gareth choked and coughed around toast he had just put in his mouth. Lexanna waited patiently for him to compose himself.

“I apologize, I was unaware.”

“I assumed the news of the demon attack on Shirgrand would have made it this far north by now.”

“Yes, of course. I did not know your parents were among those…” he trailed off.

“Slaughtered?”

“I was going to say, slain.” He grimaced. “My offer still stands. You may need a friend right now. Everyone knows the Magician Major isn’t the warmest woman in Rathelas.”

“And what does my friendship earn you? I have no fame to offer. I was born without magic, making us an improper match. The Magician Major is not a friend of mine; she’s merely doing her duty. I couldn’t elevate you in any way.”

Gareth’s expression became sheepish as red crept into his cheeks. “To be honest, I’m not overly talented myself. I’ve been here a year and find it exceedingly difficult to make friends. All these others care about is position and status, and when you’re a bumbling buffoon, well, it puts a damper on your popularity. When I saw you in line dressed as you are, I was hoping you were new and that I’d have an opportunity to show I’m worthy of friendship before the others got their talon in you, so to speak.”

Lexanna was surprised at his self-depreciating comments. Upon reconsideration his fumbled introduction, it was a fitting tale. She ate in silence and observed him, noting his growing agitation under her gaze. His obvious desperation for companionship could be an annoyance, but in her current situation, he may be exactly the friend she required.

“Very well, Gareth Orbern, I’ll take you up on your offer to show me around town today.”

“You will?” His face lit up once more. “That is most fantastic. I should be finished with my tasks just before lunch. Shall we meet in the foyer? We could eat here? There is a spectacular café nearby and it would be my treat if you prefer.”

Lexanna hesitated for a moment then said, “That would be lovely, I’m sure.”

Escaping her fate meant escaping the city, and that would require knowledge of her surroundings. Who better to guide her than an unwitting young man with no friends?

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Thank you for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed The Hunted this far. If you have any feedback or comments please feel free to leave them in the comments.

I am also publishing The Hunted on Wattpad.

A new version of Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves is now available on Amazon. After receiving feedback through reviews that there were some typos and formatting errors, I re-edited the book and updated both the Kindle and paperback versions.

I also reworked the cover to be a darker. You can see the difference below.

 

Now that I’ve done this with Book One, I’m going to go ahead and do the same for Book Two. I haven’t received any feedback on Book Two yet, but I figure it’s just for good measure.

The nice thing about being an indie author is that we can take feedback and use it to improve our books. An example of this is how Andy Weir, author of The Martian, listened to the feedback of his readers and improved the story by making the science realistic. Because of that, he was able to reach his target audience, and eventually the world. If he had just said, “Yeah, well, this is just science fiction, so what if the chemistry is a little off? Most people won’t know,” things could have turned out very different.

Even if we do not achieve that type of success in our own writing, we can all use constructive feedback and turn it into a positive result. The goal is to always be improving. None of us are masters at our craft.

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add, please feel free to in the comments.

Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves

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Summer is finally over! I know some people love summer but it’s too hot for me. Now for my favorite season: Fall!

With my favorite television shows starting, I’m looking to once again discuss storytelling in the mass media by blogging on some of my favorite shows. I’m hoping to do this for The Walking Dead and maybe even Jane the Virgin to look at things from a different perspective. I’ll also be continuing with my serialized story The Hunted and more world building, characterization, and storytelling techniques as I go.

As for my books, Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves is nearing the end of more edits after feedback received. I’ll be announcing the completion and relaunch once it’s completed. Once that’s done, Shadow of the Seeker will receive a similar process just for good measure. Book three of the trilogy should still be expected in 2017, but the exact time is going into To Be Announced mode for now.

I’ll also be doing book reviews again once I’m able.

I’ll see you next week!