That First Paragraph

Whenever I decide to sit down and write, especially if I’m starting something new, one particular thing likes to rear its ugly head, and slow down my own creative process. It’s something simple but insidious. It’s beginning to write that first paragraph. It always happens the same. I write down a few lines in my notebook (I like writing by hand), and I’ll look down, and think to myself, “this is awful,” and proceed to rip out the page, crumple it up, and start anew. I might do this process three or four times before I finally feel like I wrote something good enough to move on.  Even writing this paragraph, I stopped and started, until I got this much out. It’s frustrating, but sadly a part of my writing process.

It’s funny, and different with note-taking and editing. I can dive right into those without a second thought and get things accomplished. My best writing days fall into those categories. But starting a story, starting that first paragraph, it’s difficult. I know for some people, it’s intimidating to start filling words onto that blank piece of paper, or computer screen. I’ve heard that plenty of times before.  I know for me, it’s something different, although I’m pretty sure that it’s a rather common thing.

The way I look at it, bear with me, my analogy is strange, but the way I look at it, is that I want to be a March of the Toreadors kind of writer. Yes, March of the Toreadors, that famous piece of music from Carmen by Bizet. If you listen to that particular piece, it starts out with this great, bombastic sound. It has such a strong opening, and as a writer, a strong opening is a perfect way to start a story. So, I’m trying and trying to make this great, bombastic opening, and wind up frustrating myself in the process. Me, I’ve been trying to learn a different tactic.

Instead of being a March of the Toreadors kind of writer; I’m trying to be more of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Minor kind of writer, or a Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring kind of writer. With those two pieces of music, if you listen to them, they do not start with any kind of dramatic opening. True, with the type of compositions they are, they’re meant to sound like an ongoing stream of music, but why I mentioned them, is they have this consistency. They are beautiful from beginning to end, and have this nice, even tone. Something I think I should bring into my writing process. Keep it steady, consistent, and come to a nice ending point. I can leave the bombast until the editing phase.

Now, I just need to put this into practice. Un-learning bad habits is quite hard.

Also, just as a notice, I didn’t post a new Fiction Friday post last week. I was feeling under the weather. Here’s to hoping this week will be different.

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Review: Abzu

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Title: Abzu

Genre: Adventure, Art Game, Simulation

Format: Playstation Plus

Rating: ★★★★★

Abzu is one of those games that’s not so much a game, as it is an experience. The basic premise is that as the player, you guide an underwater explorer through both the ocean and the concept of the Cosmic Ocean. It has little in the way of objective, and isn’t the kind of game that you win. It’s an experience, like I said above, and it’s an amazing one at that. Abzu is a shining example of when video games become art, and shows that video games can be a powerful outlet for both artistic expression and storytelling.

The graphics and design of Abzu is stunningly breathtaking, and one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. It’s design isn’t one based around hyper-realistic graphics. This looks like a mosaic brought to life. Smooth lines, a mixture of soft and bold colors, and attention to geometry gives this game such a mesmerizing look. There is so much attention to detail that it’s unreal. The game is so short, but with the sort of detail it has, you could spend hours just looking at it. The game encourages you to do this. In the different areas in the game, there are little spots designated for “meditation.” In these spots, the game’s action is halted and you can take in all the scenery around you. The scenes of the Cosmic Ocean are also gorgeous to behold. They capture this strong sense of peace and healing. This game is so beautiful. I can not say it enough.

Music is another amazing presence in this game. Soothing, evocative, and yet again, beautiful, that makes for quite a soundtrack. At times, there is an almost spiritual quality to it. Some pieces even sound like hymns. I also loved that the music had a heavy emphasis on strings. I’m a sucker for strings. The soundtrack itself would be great to use in meditation or study.

Gameplay is mostly centered around puzzles and getting through small obstacles. It’s interesting that with things that can hurt you in the game, such as these triangle-shaped bombs, they do not kill you, or take away health. You can still keep going, but in my case, it still made me try to avoid these things. There’s this strange emotional response to it. With playing something like Mario, you get aggravated if you fall off of a cliff. With Abzu, you have these feelings that if your little explorer gets hurt, it’s disconcerting. I knew that for myself, I hated seeing the explorer get hurt, and I strived to clear the path with the least amount of destruction done. I will admit that at first, I had trouble with the buttons, as in keeping what button did what straight, but it was short-lived. There were also little things in the game that were a delight to play. For one, the game allows you to ride on the backs of certain sea-life. Getting to ride a dolphin put a huge smile on my face, and made my night. I was saddened I couldn’t ride the large turtles or the squid that I found. Also, following the jet streams were a blast, and a huge highlight of the game.

Another unique factor in the game is the storytelling aspect. The game has no real, defined plot. It’s not exactly Final Fantasy with its complex plots and story arcs. Instead, Abzu relies more on feeling and imagination. At the heart of Abzu, it bases the game around the Mesopotamian myth of Abzu, god of freshwater and Tiamat, the sea goddess. The myth of these gods is that Abzu and Tiamat “mingled their waters” and created the world. It is a myth that ties into the idea of the Cosmic Ocean. I loved that they used Mesopotamian mythology, since it is highly under-utilized in fiction. Also, a lot of the moments in the game have so much emotional impact. I won’t say what, because I don’t want to give any spoilers, but what I will say, is that this game made me cry. It really is an emotional game, and the ending feels so rewarding.

Abzu is an absolutely wonderful game, and a game that I would highly recommend to people who aren’t gamers. With its soothing atmosphere, music, and emotional moments, it can be of great use to people dealing with stress, depression, or anything of that nature. It is available for computer use, so if you want to buy it, you don’t have to invest in an expensive console. I have no doubt that this will be a game I’ll revisit often.

Buy Abzu at Amazon.

Review: Magic and Romance + Gretel by Niamh Murphy

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TitleMagic and Romance

Author: Niamh Murphy

Genre: LGBT, romance, historical, adventure, fantasy, contemporary, paranormal

Rating: ★★★★

 

Fresh off of reading Mask of the Highwaywoman and falling in love with that novel, I decided to give a go to more Niamh Murphy’s work (and not to mention, she’s also a really nice lady on top of it), and I decided on reading her recent short story collection next. Magic and Romance is a collection of short stories from Murphy, with stories ranging from contemporary fiction to fantasy based around Arthurian Legend. It is very much a eclectic mix of work, and to be honest, some stories were excellent, while others fell short.

In Rhythm: A contemporary piece to start off the collection, based around a pair of ballroom dancers and an upcoming championship. A very fun start to the collection, and an enjoyable bit of fluff. Not to mention, Ruby sounds quite stunning. It reminded me of a lesbian styled “Hallmark movie,” but it was very a delightful little piece.

Enthralled: A paranormal short, and my absolute favorite in the collection. Sapphic vampires are a weakness of mine, so of course, I’m going to be drawn to it. But, it was to me, the best of the entire collection. The pacing was spot-on and had a great, heavy tension to it. I also loved the theme of not being able to let go, and the uncertainty of it all. The final sentence in the story packed a punch. A damned good story and the highlight of this collection.

Is She?: Another contemporary and yet again, very fluffy and fun. Claire’s naivety was adorable, and I loved the shout-out to the movie, But I’m a Cheerleader. Also, yet again, Jasmine, the object of Claire’s interest sounded lovely.

The Lady Edris and the Kingdom in Cave: A fantasy story based around Arthurian Legend, and the story I feel a bit mixed about. I did love it a lot. Lady knights, mythology, fantasy, I love these things, but my problem is I really felt that this story needed to be a bit longer. I wanted some more development, more padding out. I wanted to get to know Lady Edris, Linette and the Witch Queen more. I just wanted more. I’d love to see this story get the novel treatment and be expanded. It would make a dynamite lesbian fantasy-romance novel.

Reason to Stay: A contemporary YA short, and for me, the weakest in the collection. But I may not be the best judge of this, to be fair. I’m not much on contemporary YA, no matter the subject matter. So, I’ll leave it at that.

Mask of the Highwaywoman: The short story that inspired the novel.  I really loved the novel, so it was nice to see a bit of background with it.

The Black Hound: A gothic short story based around werewolves. My problems with this one is the same problems I had with The Lady Edris and the Kingdom in a Cave. It really needed to be expanded. I didn’t really connect with the characters and with how short it was, it felt convoluted. I did love the atmosphere, though.

Delicious: A contemporary piece to close out the collection, and makes sense, since it started with contemporary. For me, the story didn’t interest me much (might be my own personal bias), but I really loved the moment when Nadia asked Charlotte if she wanted “her to be her resolution.” It was a nice way to close out the story.

So, for me, Magic and Romance had its hits and misses for me, but short story collections work that way for me. Overall, it felt like taking a look at the author’s earlier works and seeing the roots that they planted for themselves. I love getting to see that, and what the book carried a lot of, was potential. This author has a lot of potential and I am excited to follow her works.

 

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Title: Gretel

Author: Niamh Murphy

Genre: LGBT, romance, fairy tale retelling (Hansel and Gretel)

Rating: ★★★★★

I’m also reviewing Gretel as well, since I read that after Magic and Romance, and since it’s a short piece, I’m including it as part of this review. Gretel is a retelling of the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, and after reading it, it was one of the best LGBT fairy tale retellings I’ve ever read, and also a really good retelling in general. It was one of those short works that just delighted me, put a huge smile on my face after reading it, and will probably be re-reading it again in the near future.

The characterization of Gretel was so wonderful. One of the great things about fairy tale retellings, is that fairy tales feature stock characters. With them being stock characters, they lack personalities of their own and work more as a plot function than anything. So, when doing your own take on one of these classic stories, you get to fill-in-the-blanks. Not going to lie, yours truly here loves writing fairy tale retellings of my own. But with Gretel, I loved her. I rooted for her, and seeing her own personal strength grow through out the story, was rewarding.

Also, I loved the Witch. I’m not going to say too much, as to not give too much away, but the Witch falls into a lot of my favorite character tropes, and I walked away from it loving her to pieces. Wild witchy women with a strong connection to nature, these women make me happy. The relationship that grows between the two women is sweet and wonderful, and I am deeply impressed that the relationship had that much depth in a story with such a short length. Gretel and the witch stole my heart.

One thing I’ve grown to love about this writer’s work is her sense of atmosphere. The deep, dark woods where the witch lived and the unique place where her cottage was located felt so real, while reading it about it. I love that. Murphy has this real nice appreciation in her works with nature and surroundings, and I really connect to that. Lush, green, rustic, wild spaces, it draws me in. Sometimes, I do look at setting and ambiance as its own character in a piece of fiction, and they become my favorite characters. I really loved it here.

Then, lastly, how the story came together in the end, and the final sentence. I won’t spoil anything, but yet again, the last sentence packed a punch.

Just a wonderful read, and a great retelling.

 

Buy Magic and Romance and Gretel at Amazon.