In which I mourn yet another good idea marred by poor execution.

Vampire Origins – The Strigoi by Riley Banks started out strong, with an action-packed first chapter that arced beautifully and drew me right into the story. From there, however, it went rapidly downhill, twisting and turning back on itself, then came to an abrupt halt with an ending that left me feeling cheated and rather dizzy.

I liked the idea of a powerful vampire turned entrepreneur. Vladimir Roman has a grand plan: to enslave thousands of humans in his blood factory to provide himself and his extended “family” with a reliable source of sustenance. I also enjoyed the budding romance between Scarlett and Caleb complicated by Lachlan’s loveless rivalry for possession of her. And I was very intrigued by the evil Miss Angeline. Wicked children bring a delightfully skin-crawling factor to just about any horror story.

Unfortunately, my enjoyment was marred by a number of game-ending mistakes that jarred me out of the story and scrambled my brain. First and foremost, there are major formatting issues. The margins changed with just about every paragraph; sometimes there were first-line indents, sometimes there were not. The inconsistencies made my eyes skitter around.

There are no typographical breaks between scenes, so I was jerked from one character to another without warning and sometimes without an initial clue to who I was supposed to be following next. I had to fumble around for a bit, and sometimes back-track, to figure out where I was in the story. I found myself saying “Wait, what?” a lot.

The author made it clear that her vampires’ images cannot be reflected in mirrors. There are no mirrors in the castle (but then one conveniently appears when Scarlett has to gaze into it), and she mentions the lack of a reflection a number of times throughout the story. All the sudden, though, Lachlan’s reflection appears in a set of mirrored windows. What? No.

There are a couple of missteps that a little research could have corrected. One that sent me right out of the story was the bit about hockey. There are no three-minute penalties in the official rulebooks. There are two, five, ten, and hit-the-showers-dude. Also, how does one go from never being on skates to captain of the team overnight? I had an inkling that the Renee character might have charmed the two brothers into rapidly developing mad hockey skills, but this was not made clear enough to allow me to suspend my disbelief.

Finally, the sudden ending brought me up short with a final, and very indignant “Wait, what???” While I’m a fan of cliffhangers, this one felt more like I was slammed into a brick wall.

I think, with a major overhaul, this could be a brilliant addition to the genre. Formatting issues, typographical errors, missing words here and there, inconsistencies, and the abundance of repetition and passive voice: these all need to be corrected. Ms. Riley, please take the time and spend the money for a professional editing service. You’ll be glad you did.

On getting closure…

Last night, Husband and I attended Twelfth Night festivities (two nights early, but who’s counting?) at the home of an old friend. I was surprised to see my elementary school art teacher among the guests. Her hair, once jet black, is now snow-white and her face, while still familiar to me, has softened with wrinkles. But her eyes were exactly the same.
She remembered me as a talented young artist and was dismayed to hear I hadn’t kept up with it. Then she told me a story.

Back then, we had only two levels of school: elementary and high school. Elementary was Kindergarten through sixth grade and high school was seventh through twelfth grade. When the students moved from sixth to seventh grade, there was a “graduation” ceremony, complete with awards. My art teacher was tasked with choosing which of her students would receive the art award and she had narrowed it down to two students: myself and another young lady. While I had the greater talent, she said, the other student worked harder at improving herself and so she decided the award should go to the hard worker.

She said it’s always bothered her that she didn’t give me, the more talented student, the award.

I told her I completely understood that, while talent should be awarded, hard work should as well. I also told her that little has changed, as my long-suffering editors can attest. Yes, I have talent, but it has to be coaxed, cajoled, and bullied out of me.

The relief on her face was nice to see. After forty years — forty years! — she could finally put this little demon to rest. But, what struck me about her tale was how little value we place on those amazing teachers in our lives. That there are some who care so deeply about their students that they will fret over a small incident like that.

Teachers are extraordinary people and should be revered as such. I wish I understood that better forty years ago…

Getting some local media attention…

But, of course, all media is global now, right?

Interview With the Novelist

 

An exercise in brevity…

Every year, just after Thanksgiving, our local weekly newspaper calls for submissions to their Readers’ Writes issue. They cynical side of me thinks it’s because the regular staff writers wanted a vacation from the ice box that is Ithaca in winter and fled to the south, leaving the editors behind to scramble for stories. The less skeptical part hopes they do it because they know that this town is crawling with talented people and what better way to showcase this talent?

Whatever the reason, this year I decided to participate, so I did what any author should do: I looked up the submission requirement. This, in their entirety, was what they said:

Submissions sought for year-end Readers’ Writes issue of the ‘Times’

Since 1981, the Ithaca Times has closed the year with the “Readers’ Writes” issue, featuring submissions from our most valuable commodity, you. Stories, poems, drawings and photographs are welcome. It’s a chance for you to have a voice in the paper other than the letters page.

This year’s theme is “Stories of Redemption”

That can be as loosely interpreted as tradition here dictates. Of course, a wide range of submissions will be accepted. Send submissions to Attn: Readers’ Writes, the Ithaca Times, PO Box 27, Ithaca, New York 14850. Or, you can email submissions, with a subject line of “Readers’ Writes” to editor@ithacatimes.com.

GET WRITING!

This year’s deadline for submission is Thursday Dec. 19, 2013

So, I got writing! I wrote a story based on this definition of redemption: “the repurchase of something sold”. It was a great story! It was a lovely story! It was a fantastic 3400-word story! Puffed up with pride, I sent it off to the editor, certain it would be received with fanfare and confetti.

I think it took maybe an hour for a reply:

Michelle,
I’m sorry, but we can’t fit anything that long into the issue. There are a lot of submissions and the issue is only 20 pages long.
If you have anything under 1200 words, please submit it.
Thanks,
Bill

Deflated balloon would aptly describe my ego when I read that. Anyone who has worked with me, knows what happened next. I had a hissy fit.

Dammit! I wrote 3400 fantastic words! I sweated and slaved over each one of those 3400 words! I rewrote and rearranged and reworked every damned one of those 3400 freakin’ fantastic words! How dare he — this… this… this… BILL person — how DARE he tell ME there are too many of them?

Then it hit me: it’s a challenge! Well, challenge accepted.

It took me one full day of ruthless slashing and reworking, much hair-pulling and, of course, table-chomping to cut it down to 1181 words. Along the way, I learned how to tighten up a story until it was gasping for breath and begging for mercy. What I got was the bare story, stripped of embellishment and flowery phrases, a spare tale of redemption.

As of this writing, I have not heard back from Bill the Editor, but I’m quite certain he will find my story worthy. How can he not? It’s brilliant!