Ty Johnston: life on the written page

Home to fantasy, horror and literary fiction author Ty Johnston

Friday, October 17, 2014

'Where Gather the Gods'

Where Gather the Gods is my latest novel or novella, whichever term you prefer. Right at 40K words, I've seen some sources which call this a short novel, others which suggest it is a long novella.

It is currently available in print only, though the e-book version is available for pre-order at Amazon. The e-book will be released Dec. 1, and for now the price is only 99 cents. The e-book is also available for pre-order at other venues, such as Smashwords, Kobo, etc.

The story here is part of my Ursian Chronicles, taking place about 10,000 years before the birth of my Kron Darkbow character. For that matter, the events take place before mankind in my world has formed civilization of any note. I could go back even further, and perhaps I will at some point, but for now I wanted to focus upon characters and events which will play a role in the shaping of my world, and will have an effect upon Kron and his time period.

This is the first of a trilogy, the second book to be titled A Place Called Skull. That second novel is almost complete and will likely also be available Dec. 1 in print and e-book formats.

The third book is titled Whom the Gods Slay, and I'm not so sure about a release date for that one. I'd really like to have it available for sale on Dec. 1 with the other two books because I would like to have them all out at the same time. However, as I've not even started that novel, it likely will not be available at that date. Still, I can give it the old college try, and we'll see what happens; either way, the third book should be along at least later in December or maybe some time in January.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 52 -- The Blood That Bonds

by Christopher Buecheler

Started: Oct. 7
Finished: Oct. 10

Notes: With Halloween looming on the horizon, I thought it time I dipped into some darker material. Here there be vampires.

Mini review: This book is a prime example of why I like to read authors with whom I'm unfamiliar. In many ways, the storytelling here was darn near perfect. A lady of the night becomes a creature of the night, putting behind her one tragic life for another. Imagine if Anne Rice's vampire chronicles were less touchy-feely and a little more action oriented, and you've got a good idea of the style of this novel. My only almost-complaint here is that the story after the climax seems to go on for a bit, but in truth it is worth it once one sees where things are headed. Also, I'd like to add, the author here gave me a surprise or two when the climax struck, which is a rare thing for me nowadays. I'll be seeking more works from this writer.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 51 -- Bushido, the Soul of Japan

by Inazo Nitobe

Started: Oct. 4
Finished: Oct. 7

Notes: When I'm in the mood for something truly different, I'll go perusing through the Amazon listings of old and free e-books, many from the 19th Century and earlier, some great works of literature but others often enough long forgotten pieces, sometimes fiction and sometimes not. This particular book originally came out in 1899. The author came to the U.S. and was a professor, agriculturalist, delegate to the League of Nations, eventually a Quaker, and much more. In part, he wrote this little book to help show non-Japanese how ethics were passed from generation to generation, and to explain a little history, often through comparisons (where appropriate) to European history.

Mini review: You're not going to find anything here on swordplay or warfare. In fact, the two are rarely mentioned. What you will find, however, is a treatise on the "knightly virtues" of Bushido, basically the code of chivalry (for lack of a better word) for samurai or bushi, the traditional Japanese warrior class of nobles. Though a code of sorts for nobility, the author also talks about how the notions behind bushido have spread into the non-noble sectors of Japan and Japanese life. Treating bushido as a religion, the author extols the many virtues of this code, though he does not shy from giving his opinion on some of the negatives. Also, though a Christian convert, his love of Japan and to bushido shines through. Of particular interest to me was the last chapter in which the author talks about the future of bushido, which he sees as slowly fading away much as did the code of chivalry; keeping in mind when this book was originally published and the history of Japan during the next century, these are what drew me to that last paragraph.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 50 -- The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe

by Jeff Bennington

Started: Oct. 1
Finished: Oct. 4

Notes: This e-book is a couple of years old, which means it is likely way out of date. Still, I've had it a while and have wanted to get to it. Maybe I'll pick up a few things.

Mini review: Surprisingly, this e-book wasn't as dated as I thought it might have been. More inspirational than anything, the author kept to a lot of broad advice which is still quite relevant, especially to beginning writers looking to self publish. And the few specifics that came up were mostly still relatable, focusing on a few marketing techniques and even some technical points about HTML for Amazon pages. I even discovered a few Web sites for marketing with which I was unfamiliar, and that came as a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 49 -- Of Dice and Men

by David M. Ewalt

Started: Sept. 27
Finished: Oct. 1

Notes: I don't think the average person realizes just how much of an influence the game of Dungeons & Dragons has had upon popular culture. For instance, without D&D, many video games would probably not play or even look the way they do. Hit points? That came out of D&D. Halflings? The term came from D&D. Drow? D&D. Armor class? D&D. I could go on. Hell, the very idea of a group of adventurers gathering together to go off on a quest was popularized by D&D even more than the fantasy literature that came before, or at least D&D reached out to a wider and broader audience. For any writers, especially fantasy writers, who disagree with me, how many times have you read submission guidelines that told you not to send in a story if it read like a D&D game? Case closed. Anyway, whether you agree with me or not, this book I'm reading is something of a history of D&D and tabletop roleplaying in general, from those who created such games decades ago (and today) to the modern players. I've been excited about reading this one for a while.

Mini review: Ultimately this is one writer's love letter to a game he has played most of his life and of which he has many fond memories. The experienced RPG player will not find a lot new to him or her here, and the author mentions this early on, but the casual fan or someone with interest will probably learn a few things. I have to say it was nice walking down memory lane with the author, and to experience his meeting with some of the great names in the game's history as well as his visits to some of the places which were hot spots in the game's early days.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 48 -- Inventing the Enemy: Essays

by Umberto Eco
translated by Richard Dixon

Started: Sept. 23
Finished: Sept. 27

Notes: These essays are actually based upon various lectures the author has given during the last decade or thereabouts. I loved reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, and I keep meaning to read more of his material; to that end, but also to expand my horizons somewhat, I decided to step into this non-fiction collection. I can't remember from where, but it seems some site highly suggested this book, so there's also that.

Mini review: Having the same title as the book, the first essay/lecture focuses upon the tendency for organizations (of any human type, from governments to nations to religions to cultures, sub-cultures, etc.) to create enemies for themselves, even when there is no enemy present. The author seems to be saying that this notion of creating enemies is a natural one, even among the most peace-loving among us (who create enemies not necessarily of other human groups, but of causes -- such as global warming, saving animals, etc.). For the most part I was familiar with the ideas expressed here, though I'll admit there were a few new to me.

The next essay is Eco's thoughts on the Absolute vs. the Relative within philosophy. For me this was a snoozefest hearkening back to the more boring and, in my opinion, less useful of my undergrad philosophy classes. When particular philosophical notions have little or no practical use and/or are unprovable and thus truly undefendable, I tire quickly of them. Like Aquinas on the question of whether or not the Earth is round or flat, what difference does it make if it's not a question of Salvation (though I don't necessarily mean that in a Christian sense, but Aquinas obviously did)?

The third essay is a lengthy one on the symbolism of fire through the ages, which is about as exciting as you want it to be. For me, not overly exciting.

The fourth essay takes a look at treasures of Europe, with a strong focus upon religious artifacts. All of this I found quite interesting, though I knew some of it, but the article gets bogged down with a long list of artifacts without many details. This would be a good jumping off point for anyone interested in the subject matter, but there's not in depth history here.

Now we come to a lecture on a late author and contemporary to Eco. Here Eco compares the writer's treatment of food, mainly cheese, with the writer's writings dealing with excrement and the like. Short and somewhat entertaining, even slightly funny, to tell the truth.

In the next lecture/essay, Eco takes a look at abortion and related material from a historical point of view, mainly that of antiquity with more than a little talk of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who on the subject matter would be considered quite the heretic today. This piece drew me in because of the historical angle, especially as too often we seem to consider abortion a modern dilemma.

Next the author gives us a fairly extensive study of the writings of Victor Hugo, especially Hugo's treatment of the grotesque vs. the beautiful and how Hugo kind of turns Romanticism upon its head. Quite the interesting read for Hugo fans and for writers drawn to the period.

From here Eco veers over into censorship, mainly from a modern Italian viewpoint, which is understandable considering the author and his audience for the lecture. Some interesting stuff here, especially about different types of censorship, some that are not so easily recognizable.

Eco then takes a look at geography and astronomy from a historical, mostly European angle with a touch of nostalgia on his part, especially for ancient maps which were either outright wrong in their interpretation or were meant to be fantastical, of imaginary places. Eco also paints a picture of the Middle Ages as not being as backward as is generally believed today, especially when it came to travel and general astronomy, that the world wasn't believed to be flat, at least not by those with knowledge.

Then we come to a mildly humorous piece in which the author gives an overview of a fictional nation that tried to live only by the wisdom found in old sayings, proverbs. One can expect things don't turn out very well for the country.

The next essay is a bold diatribe against James Joyce. The language here is so strong as to be comical, my thinking at first being that Eco was surely jesting. But then the author veers over into anti-Semitism and becomes quite ugly. I have to say, I was taken back by the anti-Semitism, but it didn't stop me from finishing the book as I was so near the end.

Veering over to less sensitive material, the author concerns himself with islands, real and fictional. I had never thought of it until reading this essay, but islands have played a lot of important roles in many a story, and real islands have of course had an influence upon the real world, from geography to politics, economy, etc.

Eco winds down his book with a look at the WikiLeaks scandal from a year or two back. His opinion seems to be that the actual information leaked was no big deal, stuff most people "in the know" already knew anyway, but that the important thing here is that Big Brother is no longer in total control but has a watchman of sorts through hackers and the like.

Overall, the historical aspects of this book were intriguing. There is no doubting Umberto Eco is a genius of ancient, Medieval and Renaissance history of Europe. However, in my opinion, his thoughts on the modern world have a major fault, a sense of the over importance of his homeland, Italy. I do not mean to disparage Italy or Italians, but to be frank, I don't think that nation plays as large or as an important a role in current world politics and economics as Eco seems to believe. But I've never been there, so I freely admit I could be talking out of my ass.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My newest writing tool -- the Alphasmart Neo

Ooo, aaah, it's like the 1980s all over again.

What you see above is my Alphasmart Neo, basically a portable word processor. You can plug it in for use, but there's little need since the three AA batteries in the back will last up to 700 hours. Yes, you read that correctly -- 700 hours. It is about the size of the smallest netbooks though lighter than any laptop I've yet to run across, and it doesn't bother with the clumsy configuration of tablets with connecting keyboards. There is no Internet access, which means no distractions. When I want to transfer my files over to a PC or Mac, all I have to do is connect them with a cord and the story moves over. It offers a simple word count and spell check and calculator, along with a few other things which I can't name right now because I never use them.

Not quite flat.
More importantly, it has doubled my writing speed. I can now tap out about 2,000 words an hour.

There are other versions of the Alphasmart which offer more bells and whistles, including some Internet access, faster transfer of files, teaching tools, etc.

Originally the various versions of the Alphasmart were marketed to the education community, specifically to grade schools through high schools. Unfortunately, the sales must not have been there since the company which made the Alphasmarts ceased doing so about a year ago. Maybe they should have tried marketing to writers, because there is a growing number of writers over at the kboards who are now using one Alphasmart or another (and sometimes more than one) for their daily writing, like me.

For some time I had been looking at word processors, but I had not found one which fit my needs. My Neo does everything I want it to and nothing more, which is perfect. I don't want extra bells and whistles or Internet access. I want to be able to carry this little gadget wherever I want and to be able to write with absolutely no distractions. I have found it perfect for that.

Actually, no, that is not from a story of mine,  though the
character menioned is. I just made up the text to show an
example of the screen and font.
One downside is file transfer is fairly slow, but apparently there is software that allows for faster movement of files. I've simply yet to try it.

Also, the screen might appear small to some, but the font size and the number of lines that can be viewed can be adjusted. Also, though it took some getting used to, I believe being able to see less of the story, and not being able to jump around in the story so easily, is what has increased my word count.

I did have an HP netbook which I quite liked, but I gave it to a family member who's computer went blooey on them.

If you're interested, you can usually find an Alphasmart or ten for sale on eBay or at Amazon. But I suggest studying the different versions first to find out which fits your needs. For me, it's the Neo.