Pop Culture References

Call the practice what you will: a shout-out, an homage, or simply a reference. If you’re a fan of pop culture, movies, TV, books, or music, perhaps you’ve seen filmmakers, directors, and writers being cute with this ritual. Recently, my wife and I were watching an episode of “Heroes,” and were pleased at the appearance of George Takei (Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek). In this new series, he’s a wealthy Japanese business magnate, and the license plate on his limousine read “NCC-1701.” We had a good chuckle over noticing that little shout-out. In “Jersey Boys,” directed by Clint Eastwood, there’s a scene in a TV studio and a wall of monitors. The screens are playing many of the TV shows from that era, including a shot of Rowdy Yates from “Rawhide.”

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These allusions are everywhere if you take the time to notice them. But of course, one must be a veritable fountain of useless cultural knowledge (like me) to catch them. Even The Beatles dropped a shout-out to Bob Dylan in the song “Yer Blues” from The White Album.

With all this in mind, I couldn’t resist the temptation to do the same within my own pages. The original manuscript for Storm of Divine Light was replete with Easter Egg type shout-outs. But alas, my wife (The Queen) and some beta readers suggested their removal. They said that my references, although entertaining, were too overt and jolted them out of their reading immersion.

For some odd reason, I figured that including some shout-outs was the right thing to do as a way of adding humor to Storm of Divine Light. After all, I hadn’t played any word games with a reader since my first short story “A Purveyor of Odd Things” from the Ragged Souls collection. No pop culture references in that one, but an assault of palindromes, anagrams, and double-entendres.

I reluctantly agreed and removed most of them during the final edit. Most of them (heh heh heh). The remaining ones are quite veiled, and I doubt if anyone will identify all of them. I confess, one of them is somewhat blatant, but I figured that one would stay as a signal that there are more. Hopefully, you’ve paid strict attention to my favorite movie lists. Although I do have a nagging suspicion that my friend Lynne will catch most or all of them.

Do you know what NCC-1701 signifies? Or what Rowdy Yates has to do with “Jersey Boys”? Or the lyrics from The Beatles “Yer Blues”?

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Indie Review: “Something Wicker This Way Comes” by Colin Garrow

Check all your previous Sherlock Holmes assumptions at the door –  or book cover, in this case. The story within these pages does not simply consist of “fanfic” new cases added to the canon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Rather, Indie Author Colin Garrow has re-invented the characters and taken them in a new direction. Imagine if you will, Sherlock and Dr. Watson solving cases in an alternate steampunk universe.

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Something Wicker This Way Comes” is the first in a series dubbed “The Watson Letters,” since it is written as a bulk of correspondence between Watson and Holmes. In it we find Dr. Watson as the intrepid gumshoe and Sherlock adding in his bit with rare appearances, and sometimes creating havoc by picking fights over minutiae. I cannot discuss the specific subjects of the letters without dropping spoilers, but I will mention what I can.

There are numerous shout-outs to famous true crime cases, movies, and other things in pop culture. And in the course of these comes a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor. Let me say that this series, in its steampunk setting, is first and foremost a satirical parody of the crime-solving duo. Colin Garrow dispenses his barbed humor with skill. Yes, I almost spit out my tea on several occasions.

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The quality of the writing is first class. At no point did I have to stumble over an oddly constructed sentence or back track. Colin Garrow’s masterful style gives us a sense of a whirlwind life and friendship. However, the best part is, Colin achieved this while maintaining a sense of a 19th Century steampunk world. Watson’s “voice” comes across as a living member of this alternate universe.

Whether you’re a fan of Sherlock or simply an armchair historian with some pop cultural knowledge, you will enjoy Colin Garrow’s creative innovation as much as I did.

Twitter: @ColinGarrow

Indie Review: Shadows in the Stone by Diane Lynn McGyver

In her book, “Shadows in the Stone,” Diane transports us into a fantasy world that she describes with enough expertise to fully immerse a reader. There are some overlaps into our own world, but they do not shake a reader out of the fantasy. Now, you may be thinking, “All fantasy does that.” Yes, you’re correct, in the sense that the moment an author mentions a sword, a shield, or a horse, they’re pointing to the real world. However, Diane brought in the concept of canned foods, and described a diligent accounting / government system within Aruam Castle, complete with pre-made forms, records, and bureaucratic filing. Yet she incorporated it so well into her world-building that any reader will seamlessly accept.

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Love is the fine lace woven through the main plot. We see familial love, the love of friendship, and romantic love all growing from the main story. It is the driving force behind the actions and determination of the characters.

Besides love, during our time within Diane’s world, there is murder, mayhem, magic, sword-play and a long, gritty pursuit. From these struggles and hardships, much is revealed about the characters’ pasts, loves, and fears. These aspects of the characters are revealed as a consequence of the main plot, rather than being conveniently parachuted in as filler material.

On Writing Quality: Diane Lynn McGyver stands head and shoulders above other indie authors. Her dialog flows well, as does her setting and internal descriptions. She knows how to show and not tell better than most. There is also a skillful knowledge of writing at work. Diane knows how not to overuse ‘to be’, adverbs, and a throng of other useless crutch or weasel words.

Word Creation: One item in the skill set of any fantasy / sci-fi author is creating new words and terms, either for things out of this world or renaming the mundane. I’ve seen other books where this practice is performed ad nauseam, to the point where a lengthy glossary is needed. But Diane managed it flawlessly. I especially liked her creations of sumortide, springan, yesternight, and Hauflin. These words helped me to immerse and stay there (very crafty, Diane). DLM


 F.Y.I  –  Diane maintains a spiffy blog as well


Characters:  “Shadows in the Stone” is a deep look into the heart and soul of the Dwarf Bronwyn Darrow. Now, I simply ask you to drop all of your Tolkien Dwarven standards. Diane has beautifully tweaked and redefined the notion of Dwarf, both in the physical and cultural sense.

Bronwyn Darrow stands as one of my favorite characters ever created within the sci-fi / fantasy genre. The other is Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Let that sink in about the company Bronwyn Darrow keeps.

Parting Thoughts: I enjoyed every page of “Shadows in the Stone” as you will too. This is the first in the Castle Keepers series, which is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

Did Sherlock Holmes Meet Mr. Spock?

Well maybe they shouldn’t meet, or perhaps can’t. Unless our intrepid science officer from Star Trek, Mr. Spock, decides to travel back in time to 19th Century London, finds his way to Baker Street, and has a robust conversation with the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. However, if that conversation should deteriorate and turn into an argument, and Spock murders Sherlock, there could be more serious consequences other than the long arm of the law.Sherlock

We know from certain Star Trek episodes and movies (I believe there are time-travel episodes from all of the individual series, and the movie Star Trek IV) that time travel into the past is possible within the Star Trek universe. Science of course says otherwise, because of the huge problem of paradox. For example, if Spock or anyone else travels back in time and kills their great-grandfather, then they were never born in the future to travel back in time to commit the murder in the first place. And that’s why anything I write does not mess around with time.

O.K., but I’m digressing. I chose Mr. Spock and Sherlock Holmes for a reason. I’m putting out this idea to all Sherlock and Star Trek fans. Is it possible that Sherlock Holmes was a Vulcan? If so, then what are the possibilities that he is also one of Mr. Spock’s ancestors?

One fact about Sherlock keeps nagging at my mind. He was a master of deductive reasoning and drawing facts together in order to land at their logical conclusion. His accentuated intellect and appetite for mundane facts almost screams out his Vulcan identity.

Imagine a Vulcan trapped on 19th century earth. Would not a Vulcan be learning all that can be learned with an incredible level of absorption and retention? If you’ve ever read any story or novel within the Sherlock Holmes canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you would be aware of Holmes’ ability to dredge up obscure facts without consulting a text.

Next comes the curious case of naming conventions within the “Spock” family. We know the names of Spock’s father and brother, Sarek and Sybok. See a pattern? It would seem that there’s a family tradition of giving descendants a moniker that begins with an “S” and ends with a “K.” Hmmm, is it too far-fetched to add the name Sherlock to the family tree?

How about this interpretation? Sir Arthur did not know about Star Trek, but Roddenberry certainly knew about Sherlock. I don’t recall Sherlock ever taking on the case of Jack the Ripper, but Roddenberry made him the subject of the episode “Wolf in the Fold.” And just by darn luck, it was Spock who solved the identity of the Ripper. A shout-out perhaps?  Who knows? But Mr. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation was a huge fan of Sherlock, and even Professor Moriarty wormed his way into an episode.

Do you think this is food for thought? Has anyone noticed this subject in a fanfic? I await some flaming comments.

2020: Writing Goals for the New Year

For the New Year, I think it best to keep working on what I have already written, rather than start a new writing project. The first draft of M&M: The Tales of Tyrennia, Book II, is done and the first ten chapters are ready for beta reading. Therefore, a release of Book II looks rather promising.2020

My short story collection, that has been “on the back burner” for far too long, should be completed. I’ve decided to alternate between Book II and the collection. Edit a chapter, then edit a short story, then back to another chapter and so on. The shorts collection has seven titles, so it will be done relatively quickly and I can shift my undivided attention back to Book II.

I’m sure some minds are saying, “Shouldn’t this be titled ‘editing goals’ rather than ‘writing goals’”? Not in my case. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts long ago, I write bare-boned drafts (mostly dialog) and edit in an additive manner rather than a subtractive one. My first editing pass involves a lot of writing, like detailed descriptions, body language, ambiance, and the five senses.

On another note, I also plan on doing many more reviews this year. Of course I’m going to restrict them to books by Indie Authors.

Yes, I know these aspirations appear thin, but I believe in keeping things simple. I’ve found that when I set too large a goal and fail to reach it, I turn into my own worst critic.

What do you plan on writing about this year? Do you already have a work in progress? Are you already planning for NaNoWriMo 2020 in November or Camp NaNoWriMo in April?

Every Time You Reply Little Patrick Doesn’t Cry

Editing Crutch Words

When we (the Queen and I) were on the cusp of completing the final draft of my fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I came across an intriguing post by #WritingCommunity member, Indie Author and Editor Dan Alatorre. His blog post concentrated on the dreaded phenomenon known as “crutch words.” Just when we thought we were safe, it was back to the draft for another round of editing.

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What are crutch words?

They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become over-used). These repeated words / phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage needs to be reduced.

What do I mean by “usage”?

Word usage falls into two broad categories. First, there is description / exposition and second, there is dialog. I’ll use the word “look” as an example in exposition.

Janet flashed a stern look at him.

Occurrences like this are borderline “telling.”  You can allow about fifteen per novel; just make sure they are distant from each other.

John looked at Janet’s stern face.

Blatant “telling” and also “distancing.” Please edit (with extreme prejudice) such usage from your manuscript.

On the flip side, the word “look” seems quite natural in dialog:

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come over here and take a look at this.”

Proper, simple, and to the point. Good job!  Now here’s an example where I make a special effort to  avoid the word “look.”

“Hey, Janet! Amble over to my location and visually scan this old photograph and let’s see if it surprises you?”

An overzealous crusade to edit any and all occurrences of a crutch word in dialog may result in stilted, wooden, and unrealistic conversation.

In another example, you may have placed the word properly, but it appears too many times within a short space.

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come here and take a look at this.”

Bill glanced over his shoulder and said, “Now look, I can’t drop everything whenever you think you’ve found something important. Keep searching and we’ll look everything over later.” He huffed a breath and stared at John with a disdainful glare.

“Don’t look at me like that.” John flung the photo into a box.

Every single line of dialog is perfectly acceptable. However, “look” is used four times within five lines of text. Do not only refer to the sidebar within MS Word. When you do a search for any crutch word, scroll though and look for clusters.

Is it possible to use a crutch word to one’s advantage?

People, not just authors, have crutch words in their arsenal. Therefore, to make a character more realistic, give them a crutch word or phrase that is reflective of their personality. Remember to use it and don’t abuse it. If a particular character has a verbal crutch, don’t let another character say the same phrase or word as much.

In Storm of Divine Light, I used the word “quite” thirteen times in dialog. The main secondary character, Cyril, uses it seven times, Maynard four times, Dagorat once, and Liberon once. I gave the character Cyril the phrase “Quite right.” Maynard says the same with some frequency, but I also established that he and Cyril are peers in age, education, and social status.

How to find those crutch words

I searched on-line for crutch word lists. Although some results geared toward public speaking and therefore contained “Um,” “Ya know,” and “like.” I found enough sites to compile a general list, but then came the ultimate problem associated with crutch words in your manuscript:  finding the personal ones unique to your own brain.

You may find those elusive personal crutch words by searching for a different one. When I searched through my manuscript for “very,” MS Word also highlighted “every,” “everything,” “everyone” and “everywhere.” In this way, I discovered that “every” was one of my personal crutches. By the time I was done, I had an extensive list to scrub:

  • A bit
  • A few
  • Actually
  • Almost
  • Appear
  • As though
  • Basically
  • Beginning
  • Certainly
  • Could
  • Definitely
  • Each
  • Every/thing/one
  • Felt
  • Finally* (Obliterate this one)
  • Gaze
  • Glance
  • Heard/hear
  • Just
  • Look
  • Nearly
  • Nod
  • Only
  • Probably
  • Quite
  • Rather
  • Reach
  • Realize
  • Really
  • Saw
  • See
  • Seem/Seems/Seemed
  • Shrugged his/her/their shoulders
  • Simply
  • Slightly
  • Some / Somehow
  • Touch
  • Turn / return
  • Very
  • Virtually
  • Was
  • Watch
  • Wonder
  • Would

Remember to apply the principles of usage and frequency when hunting these buggers down.

I’m somewhat knocked out by the difference between a crutch word-cleaned draft and the preceding draft. My manuscript for Storm of Divine Light became tighter, and neater. Or shall I say more groomed?

Did you find this helpful? Did you find a personal crutch word not on my list?

Every Time You Reply, Baby Patrick Doesn’t Cry

Guest Author: Ernesto San Giacomo ~ Villains and Heroes: Tweaking a Standard

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Imagine someone whose only desire is power, world domination, and/or gathering riches beyond the average dreams of avarice. Such an individual represents a classic villain from the SciFi or Fantasy genres, like Darth Vader from Star Wars or Voldemort from Harry Potter. At times, this archetype makes an appearance in other types of narratives, i.e. Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes.

Of course, every great villain needs a hero (and vice versa). Typically, any given pair uses the same means to a vastly different end. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader use The Force, Harry Potter and Voldemort use magic, Moriarty and Holmes use their accentuated intellects. They are opposite sides of the same coin, made good or evil by circumstance, and not so different at their core. In this way, the villain is often a dark reflection of the hero. I took this notion of reflection to the Nth…

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Balancing Your Chapter Titles

Back in 2016, while still writing and editing my first fantasy novel, I wrote a post concerning the pros/cons and naming conventions of chapter titles. Since then, I’ve learned more about the ins and outs of creating them. First, a chapter title must be true. An author should never title a chapter something like “A Stampede of Pink Elephants” when there is no stampede or even a mention of a pink elephant, real or imagined, within the chapter. This notion of truthfulness brings us to the next problem, and the reason that creating chapter titles requires writing and editing skills, too.

We may label this second can of worms “honesty to a fault.” Imagine a sub-plot dedicated to the romance between the main character, Mary, and the detective, Richard. Naturally, the pages spent building up the romance teases the reader and forces possibilities and questions to grow in his or her mind. Will one die? Will they break up? Will they get married? Perhaps the end of chapter ten is a cliff-hanging hook. Will Richard save Mary in time? Too bad you titled chapter sixteen, “Mary and Richard’s Wild Wedding.” The author created an honest title, but his/her table of contents is nothing more than an extended spoiler list of the novel.

Here are the chapter titles for Storm of Divine Light:

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Chap.  1 The Signs & Portents of Mage-Sense

Chap.  2 The Confessions of Brother Maynard

Chap.  3 Religious Relics Are People Too

Chap.  4 How to Roast a Goblin

Chap.  5 Secret Steps

Chap.  6 The Metamorphosis of Liberon

Chap.  7 Under the Stolen Kiss

Chap.  8 In Hot Pursuit of a Mouse

Chap.  9 Affection’s Afflictions

Chap. 10 The Last Wagon

Chap. 11 The Incredible Gnomish Vision Tube

Chap. 12 A Bloody Fragrance

Chap. 13 Soft Footsteps in the Dark

Chap. 14 Forks in the Road

Chap. 15 Suns, Moons, & Stars

Chap. 16 May the Light Shine upon Thee

Chap. 17 Something Stirs in the Wood

Chap. 18 Across the Queen’s River

Chap. 19 Ancient Rites Fulfilled

Chap. 20 Red Desert Rezzin

Chap. 21 Palatial Brevity

Chap. 22 The Price of Blood

Chap. 23 Golgent on the Horizon

Chap. 24 Weapons of Light

Chap. 25 Bulls, Ballistae, & Bandoras

Chap. 26 Guilder’s Gambit

Chap. 27 Stronghold of Shadow

Chap. 28 Full Circle

Chap. 29 Vows

I hope these chapter titles create an air of mystery and will entice the reader rather than reveal the whole plot of Storm of Divine Light. Of course, they are all truthful descriptions as well.

Do you use chapter titles when you write or prefer them in the books you read? Which chapter title of Storm of Divine Light intrigues you the most?

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Storm of Divine Light: About the Cover and Book Design

Do you like the cover and interior book design for Storm of Divine Light? I have to give credit where the true credit is due, namely, Creative Publishing Book Design. Before my first contact with Creative Publishing Book Design, I have to admit to having reservations. Too often I’ve read warnings from others about the vultures out there looking to scam a quick buck from unsuspecting Indie Authors.

Stormcover7blogAfter my first phone call, I was very impressed. They were quick and patient with me, but they also worked with me. I cannot overstate the importance of working with me. Instead of making me choose from some prefabricated generic covers, they looked at my initial sketches and built everything from that starting point. They even requested three chapters to develop a design that reflected the mood of the book.

Communication is a key factor

There were many emails, phone calls, and text messages. I must say, their answers were quick and accurate as were their attention to details and small adjustments. For example, I did not like the eyes of the figure on the cover. I thought, because the MC is a rogue, there should be an air of mystery about him. Within hours, the team at Creative Publishing Book Design made the adjustment.

The Results Were Worth the Money

I have some print editions from Indie Authors, and unfortunately, some of those books look like they belong in the “minor leagues”. The cover combined with the stunning interior make Storm of Divine Light (use the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon) into a professional looking book, as if it was plucked from the shelf of a major book dealer.

I will contract them again for the next novel in my fantasy series, M & M: The Tales of Tyrennia: Book II. Why? Because I was treated like a valued client.

Have you ever contracted for covers and design? Got a horror story or an endorsement to share?

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New Epic Fantasy Novel: Storm of Divine Light

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The words “epic fantasy novel” do not paint an exact picture. With absolute justification and zero mental gymnastics, Storm of Divine Light is also a mystery, a romantic fantasy, an action adventure quest, and a battle laden with sword and sorcery, all written with a healthy dose of magic, religion, and humor.

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These sub-genres weave into the main story line and world-building. Most importantly, they are not simply tossed in from left field, or as some like to say, “parachuted” into the plot. Instead, they grow organically from the main plot line.


Epic Fantasy + sword and sorcery + mystery + romance + quest + action adventure + magic + humor = A most splendid entertaining experience.


stormpromoF3Imagine the epic fantasy plot line as a thick tree trunk with the sub-plots and genres as branches. Naturally, some branches are thick and closer to the base of the tree, while others are the twigs sprouting from other branches. Therefore, Storm of Divine Light has a winning formula.

Without naming the different descriptions (except quest), can you see the possibilities within the blurb?

A disturbance in the night and an unlikely stranger force the exiled master rogue Dagorat into a perilous quest. Along with his oldest friend Cyril the Wise, he sets off to retrieve a powerful weapon stolen by the dark mages of the Golgent.

Together, they brave the journey across a continent to Dagorat’s former home of Easterly, where discovery means certain execution. Along the way, he uncovers hard truths about his past, and finds new hopes for his future.

But the rising threat of war means those hopes tremble on a razor’s edge. Can he ever find his way out of the shadows and into the light?

Do you like to read multi-genre books? Does the blurb intrigue you?

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Storm of Divine Light: The Tales of Tyrennia: Book 1

Free with #KindleUnimited       eBook $3.99       Print $13.99