31 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 27

"Still nothing, remember?"
"Mom was teaching you, remember?"
"Two more bodies were found at the Zoo yesterday."
"For purely selfish reasons, I vote for coming back here."
Tricia emerged from her office around five in the evening, the first time since she got in that morning.  Fiona looked up from her computer.  "Yes, Ms Meadows?" she asked.

"No sense you staying here any later, Fiona," Tricia said.  "I'm going to be here for some time working on the Nielsen account.  I'll leave details on your desk for the morning."

"Thank you."  Fiona started to shut down her computer.  "Do you want me to order dinner in for you?"

"I can handle it.  You go on home and rest."

Fiona got up and grabbed her purse.  "Thank you, Ms Meadows."

Tricia returned to her office and sat in her office chair.  She waited to hear the front door close.  Once she was sure her secretary was gone, she turned her monitor back on.  The ashen man had a window of his own in the middle of the screen, blocking several open documents and programs.  "Just getting rid of the witness."

30 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 26 - Commentary

Brenna discovered why no one calls in the police in an urban fantasy, in The Soul Blade Chapter 26.

Why nine?  Why does Tricia need nine deaths and not thirteen or seven or a nice round ten?  I already had three on-screen deaths and implied that Tricia had been busy before.  By placing the total she needs at nine, which is three squared, I didn't need to figure out that many more murders.  Yes, that means there's one more coming, and I figured out who, roughly, the lucky character would be and started setting it up.  I'm sure that the character has a neon sign now, with the words "Dead Meat Walking" flashing, but I won't name this person just yet.

The conversation between Brenna and McCoy probably rehashes details.  Brenna did get some more information about what's going on, though, including the number of related deaths.  McCoy got a lot more screen time in the story than I expected when I first introduced him.  If I had known he'd become a supporting character, I might have put more thought into his name.  McCoy isn't counting the murder in Sacramento; her death is outside the killer's usual haunt and is being treated as a copycat.  Just as Tricia, and only Tricia, planned.

Joni isn't that much help, which a few comments to the commentary have noted.  I should have figured out the rules that affect Joni before I started, and worked out what she knows.  The base idea is that Joni's there to train Brenna, but that has loopholes big enough for the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man to walk through.  Joni is also trying to make up for lost time; she spent more time with Grace preparing the younger Halliday girl to receive the Soul Blade.  They've managed to make up somewhat, though, especially compared to an earlier version of them:
"Were you as terminally shy as me? Did you ever get rejected after throwing yourself at someone? Did you?"

"I had my own problems."

"I'm not you! I won't ever be you! Can't you understand that?"

"I know you're not me, Brenna."

"Then why can't you let me be me? Why can't you accept me as I am?"

"Bren, I always loved you. I was always proud of you, no matter what you did. I just didn't know how to talk to you. You were more like your Aunt Lucy* than either your father or myself."

"That's why you spent all your time with Grace? You could have tried."

"I didn't want to drive you away, Brenna. I made a lot of mistakes with you when you were young. Your stutter, for one. I shouldn't have pushed you about that. You stopped talking to me, and I don't blame you."

"I took extra language courses just to get rid of the stutter, and you never noticed. I drew to express myself, and you were never around for the school art shows."

"I noticed, Bren. I never wanted to miss those shows. The Soul Blade has a price, though. I never wanted the Blade either, but I couldn't ignore the threats around. My mother did the same thing."
Brenna in the above is sixteen, not the mid-twenties she is in The Soul Blade.  One of the two women would have tried to mend bridges in the ten years or so between the incarnations.  Again, the problem with updating a character for a new story - there's history that keeps cropping up even when it's not relevant.

This wraps up half a year of commentary on The Soul Blade.  There is still more story to come.

Friday, Brenna in the right place and the right time, in The Soul Blade Chapter 27.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Nancy Drew.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, a short break as I prepare for the next analysis.

* Aunt Lucy became Aunt Dawn in the years in between.

24 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 26

"A kid found her mother lying in the kitchen in a pool of blood."
"So, your new friend has a book of rituals that may or may not work that he can read?"
"I don't like the idea of being in some place where I can be locked up when I'm talking about stuff that sounds crazy."
"Her soul didn't feel as substantial as I expected."
The afternoon crowd at the Perfidious Clam's was completely unexpected by Brenna.  Instead of the myriad of bathing suits revealing as much as legally allowed, the people here wore work clothes; business suits with ties loosed or removed completely, jackets tossed over chairs or into the corner of booths, top buttons undone, sleeves rolled up.  Still a young crowd, Brenna noted as the hostess led her to a small booth.

Brenna ordered a beer that she nursed while she waited for McCoy to arrive.  To keep herself busy, she pulled a small sketchpad and a pencil from her purse and doodled.  When the detective arrived, he found the young brunette with half a pint of beer and a small stack of drawings.  "I hope I didn't keep you waiting long," he said as he sat down.

23 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 25 - Commentary

Summer's research reveals the the threat, in The Soul Blade Chapter 25.

Brenna's morning is after being up late with Matt.  Krista's call is to get the information about the death in Sacramento to Brenna.  The reactions were the goal for the conversation, and after that scene, I realized that I do a lot of dialogue.  Go fig.  The call from Summer clarified the spells.  It also has a sequel hook, though that wasn't the plan at the time.  Summer wants the excitement of Brenna's life; she is well aware of the Blade and sees it as a cool thing, not the curse that her cousin sees it as.  The decision to have the information sent as an email meant not forcing the reader to sit through an infodump.

Tricia's reveal of why she chose the suburban housewife was inspired by the Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman novel, Good Omens.  One of the characters, Crowley, is a demon who has a more modern look at spreading evil.  While his fellow demons are craftsmen, with one tempting a priest and expecting to have him in a year, Crowley causes a massive traffic jam.  The drivers trapped then take out their frustrations on others, who then do the same to even more people.  A wave of taint spreads out, affecting a far larger number of people*.  That's the line of thought Tricia is using; by killing someone is a safe suburb, and leaving the body to be discovered by her children, she's spreading fear as fast as the media can report the crime.  J. Random Surferdude in San Diego doesn't bring out the media as someone killed in her own home.

The advice Missy gave Brenna about starting a blog I eventually used for myself.  I started blogging in 2012.  The idea of Brenna writing down the stories she hears from ghosts and publishing them on a blog is a good one.  She'd have a unique voice and unique perspective about history, even if no one believed her about her sources.  Missy's choice of browser was based on the one I used in 2009.  Opera is a real browser, originally promoted as being small enough to fit on a 3.5" floppy disc.  I gave up on it when it started having problems with .gifs, requiring me to click on the element before it even loaded.  It could be fixed now, though.  Hindsight tells me that the tab Missy had for slashfic probably should have been for Supernatural.  However, Stargate SG-1 comes before Supernatural alphabetically, so her fondness for Wincest is still hidden from Brenna. 

With the email from Summer, much like the phone call at the beginning of the chapter, the goal was to show reactions.  Infodumps aren't the best way to get details to the audience, and the, "As you know, Missy," approach will have people wondering just how pedantic Brenna is.  The reaction to the infodump is the important piece.  There's a difference between, "Oh, crap!" and, "Oh, this again?"  Brenna's reaction is to call the police.

Friday, Brenna brings Detective McCoy up to speed, in The Soul Blade Chapter 26.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, "Rinse the Blood Off My Toga", for a belated Ides of March celebration.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Nancy Drew.

* However, as goes evil, so does good.  Crowley accidentally caused a telemarketing call centre to be eaten by an angry Hastur.  The calm from the telemarketers not calling people and interrupting lives meant a wave of good feelings spread out, undoing the work from the traffic jam.

17 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 25

"I'm not going to get hurt!"
"I saw you having conversations with thin air."
"The Blade is usually passed mother to daughter, and it, well, how can I put it?"
"See you again?"
Brenna felt a shove on her shoulder.  She twisted away, pulling her covers over her head.  The shove returned, this time on her hip.  "Wha'?" she mumbled, turning again, this time on her stomach.

"Brenna, phone."  Grace's voice penetrated through the fog roiling in Brenna's head.

"Message."  Brenna tried burrowing her head under her pillow.

"I'm not taking a message."  Grace slapped her sister's butt.  "Come on, Brenna.  Krista's waiting.  Get up."

"Okay, okay," Brenna mumbled.  She threw back her blankets and tried pushing herself up.

After what seemed much longer than it was, Grace grabbed one of Brenna's arms.  "I will pull you out of bed myself, Bren."

16 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 24 - Commentary

Officer Matt returns, in The Soul Blade Chapter 24.

Brenna made a big step, calling Matt.  It`s something she should be doing; it`s the 21st Century, after all.  But she has had issues in the past, so calling Matt is a Big Deal.  The choice of using White Castle boiled down to two reasons.  First, word count.  Every time I typed White Castle meant using twice the words than with MacDonald's or Wendy's.  Second, it exists in San Diego, even if there isn't one by the highway that has a drive-through, but not locally.  Yes, I checked.  Fast food is never a romantic getaway, but it'll do in a pinch when the better places are all closed or take too long during a dinner break.

One thing that I don't think I've made clear is that while Brenna is the older sister, Grace is physically bigger than her, taller, more athletic.  Grace had a growth spurt in high school that shot her past her older sister, so she gets away with being the more physical of the two.  Brenna can get the upper hand, but they are evenly matched.

The reveal came from something I find annoying, the masquerade.  While Brenna did originally come from a superhero idea, via Champions, where costumed crusaders disguise themselves to prevent villains from harassing them and their families, it doesn't hold well for an urban fantasy, which is what The Soul Blade is.  Brenna doesn't have a need to hide away beyond making sure that no one thinks she's insane and needs to be locked away.  Thus, Missy and Krista know about her abilities, as do her extended family.  Bringing Matt into the circle is showing her trust in the officer.

For his part, Matt is accepting of the oddness.  He knew Brenna was different somehow, sometimes lost in what appeared to be her own little world.  The field trips to various historical sites meant that Brenna got to meet several ghosts, especially at battlefields like Gettysburg.  The reason why Brenna doesn't remember the haunted fort is because she was possessed.  It hasn't come up much, but Brenna is susceptible to being possessed by ghosts.  She's mystically open and some ghosts will take advantage of that.

Matt is getting a fair warning about what life around Brenna would be like.  Bren's just too nice to not let him know what happens around her.  How many superheroes give their loved ones this much warning?  Usually, it's more, "Oh, hi, by the way, I have some funky powers and a rogue's gallery who will probably--  Would you guys wait until I'm done speaking before kidnapping my significant other?"  Brenna doesn't even have a rogues' gallery and she's still giving Matt a heads-up about weirdness.

The main plot really didn't move forward, but Brenna's romance did.  It was a trade off, but she wound up doing something this time around.

Friday, Brenna and Matt have dinner, in The Soul Blade Chapter 25.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, localizations.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, "Rinse the Blood Off My Toga".

12 Mar 2017

Happy Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Fatal Collision Week

Goodbye, 2am.  Daylight Savings Time once again is inflicted on North American, starting two weeks before the solstice.  This year, we allegedly save daylight and are forced to wake up an hour early for eight months.  DST isn't needed.  People can decide when to wake up, when to go to bed, and how to best use their time, especially now that daylight hours aren't a restriction on working and playing hours.  The health risks aren't worth the light saved.

10 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 24

"Let me show you our latest blade."
"Gracie, you've always been the outgoing one while I hid beside Dad."
"What did Brenna call you this time, Grace?"
When Brenna woke up again, the sun had long set.  Her room caught some of the soft glow of the street light.  Brenna rolled out of bed feeling a little better than earlier.  She changed clothes, putting on a cream linen skirt and a long-sleeved black blouse, then returned downstairs.  From the living room, she heard Grace laughing at some sitcom on TV.

Brenna walked into the kitchen, wanting a bit of privacy.  She checked the time on the microwave's clock; a little past nine o'clock.  The young brunette sighed; she had wanted up earlier.  She didn't like the idea of calling Matt while he was on duty, but she really felt the need to talk to him.  With reluctance, she dialled Matt's cell phone number.

Matt's phone rang once, twice before he picked up.  "Hello?"

"Hi, Matt, it's Brenna."

"Hey, Bren.  I'm on duty, so I can't talk long.  What's up?"

Brenna felt her heart beat faster.  "I know, Matt.  I was wondering when your dinner break was.  Maybe I could meet you during it and maybe chat for a bit?"

9 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 23 - Commentary

Tricia gets another skeleton, in The Soul Blade Chapter 23.

Tricia`s murder is the second one I ever wrote, and the first one that lingered.  The surfer on the beach didn`t get the loving detail.  This time around, though, I wanted to show Tricia using the rituals Summer discovered, now that I knew what they were.  Tricia`s concerns aren't so much about being seen as they are about her clothes.  Blood just stains so.  Tricia may be the most evil character I've dealt with during NaNo, including the evil version of Nasty in Crossover and Caitlin in Unruly.

While I have had antagonists who are out for power, Tricia is the most obvious about it.  Caitlin has to work with others, so she must keep her desire for power masked.  The villain in By the Numbers is trying to carve out his own niche, and doesn't want widespread disaster marring his domain.  My 2015 NaNo project, The Elf's Prisoner, has a villain softening up the surface world for an invasion, but hasn't made the work personal.  Tricia is revelling in being superior and taking lives. 

There were some minor edits in the scene with Amy, mostly to change Brenna's attitude a little.  I can still see where she's resentful of her father's new girlfriend, but I also am well aware of what each of Brenna's movements originally meant.  Amy is trying to be friendly, looking for a way to connect with her new boyfriend's family.  I think Brenna's shyness, though she's been working on it, helps with the rewrite.  However, it's the reader who makes the final determination here.  Is Brenna just flustered or is she being resentful?

Friday, Brenna and Matt have dinner, in The Soul Blade Chapter 24.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Mercury Theatre's War of the Worlds.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, localizations.

6 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 22 - Commentary

Tricia goes collecting, in The Soul Blade Chapter 22.

In 2009, pacing was one of my problems.  The spacing of events, the need to fill in the details of the day, and showing what Team Brenna was doing while Team Tricia was out being evil didn't really help.  Words were written, and that was the goal of NaNo.  I find my pacing improved with By the Numbers.  Of course, I had also planned that one chapter by chapter.  Hmmm.

Tricia's search for a victim establishes her need for control.  Despite taking orders from elsewhere, she's in charge.  The search also shows what care she is taking, to explain why the police are baffled.  Her choice of victim shows up in Chapter 23.  It's... not pretty.  But, with Tricia around, I know what is going on and what clues to feed.

Brenna's trip to the police station has two goals.  One, to get her and Matt to talk to each other again at some point.  That bit of subplot is still dangling and needs some resolution.  Two, Brenna does have information that the police may not have.  McCoy, though, needs something he can use in court.  Brenna's info isn't useless; and the effort is appreciated, but try convincing a judge that something like magic exists.  In the Soul Blade-verse, there's still a masquerade of sorts where the supernatural isn't widely known.  Some people believe in it, others are well aware it is real, but the average person, like the real world, would consider anyone talking to unseen ghosts to be a little on the touched side.

Friday, Tricia adds to her collection, in The Soul Blade Chapter 24.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, War of the Worlds.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, to be determined.

3 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 23

"What if the killings are occult related?"
"Do you believe in the occult, Ms Halliday?"
"If the killer does, then there's the motive."
"Now go tell the District Attorney that."
The rain started to let up shortly after noon.  Tricia's hopes brightened as the sun started to peek through the clouds.  The suburb looked promising.  There were enough families with just school-aged children to choose from, and the last of the stragglers were just leaving the cul de sac. Tricia calculated that it should give her a couple of hours to go in, perform the sacrifice, and get on the road for Los Angeles.

Seeing one of the last of the children turn the corner to return to school, Tricia got out of her car.  Briefcase in hand, she walked down the dead end street, keeping an eye out for potential witnesses.  She chose her destination, a cream colored house halfway down the street, close enough to where she parked to make a quick escape if needed but far enough down to keep her hidden.  The dark haired woman marched to the front door and rang the bell.

A loud series of thumps came from inside before the door opened.  A woman in her thirties, hair disheveled, clothes rumpled, stood at the threshold.  "Yes?"

2 Mar 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 21 - Commentary

(Note:  Apparently, I forgot to post this last week.  Whoops.  Commentary for Chapter 22 will appear on Sunday, getting everything back on schedule.)
Brenna's investigation finally continues, in The Soul Blade Chapter 21.

NaNo encourages writing, not necessarily quality.  The push is to get a first draft completed, not something ready for publication, with the goal being getting people into the habit of writing regularly.  Improvement happens with experience and trying out new techniques.  My goal with my older NaNo projects is to show that my writing has been improving over the past decade, from Subject 13 and Lethal Ladies through to UnrulyThe Soul Blade is one of the earlier works, so some kinks still needed to be worked out.

One of said kinks is the lack of progress Brenna's making.  I was still working on expanding from shorter works, 5000 words or so, to 50 000 words.  Pacing was an issue; the shorter works got to the point and the action faster by necessity.  That comes across better now, when I take the time to plan out scene.  By the Numbers kept things moving, even when I realized that I hadn't left a hook for the characters to follow.  Brenna, though, floundered a bit.

That said, Summer's research became important.  Brenna spending time in a library pouring over musty tomes isn't that exciting and would be a montage sequence if filmed.  Reading about someone reading isn't that thrilling, and would be a paragraph or two at most.  With Krista around, Brenna has someone to bounce ideas off and to commiserate with.  I'm finding solo main characters don't work well for me; between The Soul Blade and Digital Magic, the focus doesn't give me the space to expand.  Tricia's scenes were added as I went in part to let me get the acts of villainy written.

The ingredients for the ritual to put a man under control were chosen because they are toxic.  Lead's affect on the brain is well known.  Absinthe - the plant, not the drink - was once used to help with dysentary, and can cause convulsions.  Laudanum is an opium derived drug, and was common in medicines and snake oil before regulations existed.  Combined, well, yes, the guy would do whatever you wanted, just to get the next fix.  Not a recommended method.

Something that should be mentioned at some point, so why not now, is spelling.  I'm Canadian.  If you prick me, I bleed maple syrup, then I go see the doctor to have the wound healed for free with my universal health care.  That means that certain words, like favour and colour, are naturally typed in the Canadian style.  Brenna isn't Canadian.  She should be dropping the u's from those words.  Trying to spell American-style after a lifetime of using the correct version during a month where daily word goals exist is impossible.  Catching all the instances afterwards using a word processor set up for Canadian spelling is difficult.  I've been relying on Blogger to catch the spelling, but Google isn't agreeing with my preferred browser, or my browser isn't agreeing with anything, and the process slows down to a crawl.  Some u's might have slipped through.

Tomorrow, Tricia adds to her collection, in The Soul Blade Chapter 23.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Lethal Weapon.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, War of the Worlds.