Friday, March 30, 2012

The Curse of Fierabras - Part One

I've decided to try my hand at writing a serial novel. My intent is post every Friday with a continuation of the story, so be sure to check back each week for the next installment. Feedback is strongly encouraged, so please let me know what you think in the comments below. I do not have a title for this yet, but I hope to come up with one before next week.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy and encourage you to share with anyone you think might enjoy reading this as well!


Part I - Into the Capital

            Dante has always wanted to see the capital in person, but he never imagined for his first visit he would be bound in chains. The rusty metal links rattle every time he shuffles his feet along the dirt road. The thick bars of iron cut into his flesh every time he lifts his feet too high or takes too large of a step. He has to move fast in order to keep up with the guards surrounding him. They won’t stop for him if he falls. He learned that two days ago when they dragged him along the road for over a mile.
            His lips are cracked and his skin is caked with dirt. Dante tries to rub the dirt from his eyes but he only manages to irritate them further. The heat from marching under the sun has his brown hair slick with sweat. He tries to catch the droplets with his tongue as they roll down his face. His body is in dire need of hydration.
            Dante’s mind, distracted by the physical discomfort, is still in awe of the vast walls surrounding the capital. They stretch in all directions as far as he can see with hundreds of buildings crowding together inside of them. Thousands of people swarm through the streets and stand in doorways, most of them dressed in torn and dirty clothing. His appearance right now blends in perfectly with the crowd of citizens, apart from the chains around his hands and feet. The stench of the unsanitary living conditions threatens to knock him off his feet, but the guards around him seem unfazed by it. He reaches up to cover his nose but a guard tugs on the chain and forces his hands down by his side. He supposes the smell is to be part of his punishment.
            As they navigate the labyrinthine twists and turns of the outer city the swarms of people begin to thin out. He can smell fresh fruits and meats and the aroma of burning coals in the furnaces of blacksmiths. Peddlers are stationed alongside wooden carts, holding up their wares to try and attract customers. The ragged clothing of the outer city has been replaced by vibrant colors and smooth layers of cloth. This part of town seems more alive, even though there are fewer people crowding the streets.
                The further they travel into the city the more open space they encounter. Houses and buildings become scarce, replaced by flowering trees and flowing fountains. Thick tufts of green grass are sprouting everywhere and extinct birds and animals are present among them. Everything he has ever been told about the capital and the Emperor don’t fit with this image of beauty. Why would the Emperor destroy everything out there while maintaining this paradise outside the palace?
            A sharp jab from the blunt end of a spear disrupts his thoughts and gets his feet moving again. Suddenly the decisions that have led him to this situation no longer seem to be the right choices. Maybe his family and friends were wrong; maybe the Emperor was trying to restore peace and prosperity to the land and everyone rebelling was preventing his success. Maybe he should have chosen differently.
            The guards bring him to a halt in front of a massive coliseum. White marble pillars gleam in the sunlight. Beds of vibrant-colored flowers encircle the base of each massive column. Dozens of arches lead into the building, each opening as wide as a dozen people. Stone steps are chiseled into the structure, leading up and down into hundreds of rows of seats. All the people in his hometown, combined with all the neighboring villages, couldn’t fill up a fraction of the seats in this coliseum. The enormity of the structure leaves him in awe of the place.
            All around them are soldiers dressed in short crimson tunics over a thin coat of chain mail. A black raven is embroidered on the left shoulder of each tunic. Each soldier has at least a small sword sheathed at their waist and a longbow strapped to their back. Many others also carry a variety of spears or maces, and a few have massive battle axes. All of them salute the man seated in front of the prisoner and his accompaniment of guards.
            The captain appears bored as he rustles through a few scrolls of parchment. He scratches his gray beard as his eyes glance up at the prisoner. He frowns and grasps a black quill and a blank roll of parchment.
            “Name?” he says without looking back up. The prisoner is hit upside the head from a gauntleted hand of the guard next to him. His vision blurs and he stumbles over his words as he attempts to answer the captain.
            “My name is Dante Silverstar,” he says. The captain jots the name down without looking up.
            “Crime?” he asks. Dante starts to answer, but one of his guards cuts him off and answers for him.
            “The prisoner is guilty of open defiance of the Emperor, inciting rebellious activity, and being in league with The Restoration.”
            Dante furrows his eyebrows and tries to step forward but the guard behind him kicks him in the back of his knee. He falls down on his knees, inhaling a cloud of dust that stirs from the impact. “I did no such thing,” he says.
            “Guilty,” the captain says.
            “Because I refused to join the Emperor’s army?”
            “Guilty,” the captain says again as he stifles a yawn. “Take the prisoner to the pit.”
            “But I…” are the last words Dante says before the world goes black and the guards drag the unconscious prisoner into the depths of the coliseum.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reject This

At the end of the week I had something arrive in the mail that I forgot even existed. Last year I had entered some of my writing into the Des Moines Area Community College writing contest and my essay took first place. I opened up a packet from DMACC and inside were two copies of the West Campus publication that had winning writings from 2009-2011. I finally held in my hands a printed, published copy of my writing.

That feeling was inspiring. I have felt the urge to write and submit some more. I've decided to put pen to paper and start writing more new things. And this motivation came at the perfect time...

Because yesterday I got an email back from Poetry magazine with a polite rejection of the poems I submitted to them.

Normally I would go through a phase of lost motivation because I sent them what I felt was the best of the best. But today I really feel like just submitting even more things.

Because I know my writing is good enough for publication. I have physical proof of that on my desk right now. If it is good enough for one, it is good enough for others. I just have to find the right place at the right time.

So I'm going to send out a flood of submissions this week. And if I get a flood of rejections, hopefully there will be at least one pearl that washes up with an acceptance.

And those publications who reject me have only strengthened my resolve to continue writing. And inspired this poem:

Reject This

Reject this poem
Like you have rejected many others,
You aren't rejecting me;
I am not this poem.

Reject this poem
So that it can move on
To be rejected again and again;
That is its fate.

For if a thousand publications
All read this and reject it,
At least it will be read a thousand times.

  And the reason I write
Is so that others can read, so
Reject this poem.

I'm linking this post up with Yeah Write this week so they can all read and reject this poem, too. Feel free to share this with others so that it can get rejected 1,000 times! :)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

From Skeptical to Faithful

For most of the 27 years of my life I tried to avoid religion. My mind was unable to wrap around the abstract notion of faith. I could not comprehend the importance of or need for religion. I wasn't atheist because I believed in the possibility, but I was more of agnostic. That basically means I was skeptical about the ability to know or not know about the existence of a deity.

A few years ago my life was stuck in an endless, destructive cycle. I spent all of my free time playing video games for hours and hours upon end. I was working 60-80 hours per week in a salaried job that I had grown to hate. There were a few times I even worked 24 hours straight for that job. I had always thought that was the career I was destined for because I didn't have a college degree.

But I desperately needed a change.

One day I had the sudden inspiration to look into the local community college. I barely made the deadline to sign up for that term's spring classes and enrolled in one course that was completely online. It was the first change in my life that would lead me down a new path.

That summer I stepped down from my salaried position and transferred to a different store. I was going to work evenings and take full-time classes during the day. That fall I met my fiancee through one of those classes, and we also realized we both worked evenings at the same store. We hit it off immediately and my life has become better ever since.

We occasionally went to her old church across town with her Grandma. While I enjoyed seeing her family, things never really changed for me while attending there. I still wasn't certain of my ability to believe, to have faith.

Seven months ago we decided to try and find a church nearby because she believed it would be important to belong to a church that we can attend as a family when we have children. I was willing to look around and we went to a few churches around town. We didn't go back to any of them a second time.

Then we attended a church called Point of Grace. She thought I might like the rock band-style music, and she was right about that. We also enjoyed the sermon given by the pastors. It was the most interesting church service I had ever been to, and we agreed to attend again the next weekend. We've gone every Sunday ever since, and I can officially say that I feel as though I belong to a church.

But there was more in store for me.

I've been reading a few pages each day from the Bible. We've become involved in some premarital events and some small group sessions. One of these is known as Pursuit. It is an eight-week course where we attempt to "See God as He is SO we can see ourselves as He sees us SO we can see others as He sees them". Wednesday was the sixth lesson in the course, and it seriously changed me.

Something that night struck a chord with me on a whole other level that I didn't even know existed. It is like a faith switch was suddenly flipped. I have been inspired to pray every morning and night since that session, as well as a few times during the day when I feel inspired to. I've become more open in talking about my new-found faith. I've started posting a bible verse each day on Facebook with the hope that it helps someone in some small way. If it inspires or encourages at least one person, then it was worth it.

Driving to work on Thursday morning I had the urge to turn the radio to Christian music. It has been there ever since.

A few weeks ago a family member needed to find a new job, which came at a bad time because she is getting married next month and had just put in an offer for a house. I started praying for her to find a job and yesterday I saw a Facebook post that she got a job.

My fiancee was suffering from jolts of pain yesterday. Last night I prayed for them to be healed. This morning they were gone.

A year ago I would have argued that this was coincidence. Today I believe there was a higher power at work.

I'm not here to preach and try to convert anyone. But I am here to let the world know that I am a true believer now. It took a long time, but I have finally found my faith. And I can't wait to find out where it is going to take me in my life.

Linking up with The Lightning and the Lightning Bug for the Dare to Share: Brave. This has always been a topic I've had trouble talking about and it feels great to finally be able to share it with others.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Achievement Unlocked: Reading Marathon

I'm not afraid of reading long books. A few summers ago I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged and It. Last year I read Don Quixote. One of my favorite series, The Sword of Truth, has eleven books that are 700-1000 pages long. I don't mind novels that draw near a thousand pages. Many times I end up enjoying these books. The problem comes when time is a factor.

A month ago we had to read Vanity Fair in the two weeks between my class, The Long Century. It was the second of six novels we're reading this semester for the course and it was a challenge to get through the novel. Especially since about 300 pages could have been removed without losing a lot of story. There was a ton of repetition.

Now I have entered the two week period where I get the challenge of reading Middlemarch inside of a two week period. This is a 900-page behemoth of a Victorian-era novel. To top things off my other class also is having me finish the last 200 pages of Angela's Ashes in the same two week period. Holy crap that is a lot of reading in a short span of time. I feel like I'm running a literature marathon here.

Now that the spring semester is closing in near the end, I'm trying to figure out my own reading goal list for the summer. I'm trying to keep in mind that next spring I'll be doing my Senior Project and what I might do for that. A 25 page paper sounds like a lot, but I'm sure I can easily eclipse that mark if I get a great topic that encompasses some awesome literature.

My initial thoughts are either comparisons of some of the major King Arthur novels (Le Morte d'Artur, The Once and Future King, The Mists of Avalon, Idylls of the King come to mind immediately for that) or something like the evolution of the "hero" in novels (starting with something like Beowulf, hitting novels like Odyssey, The Three Musketeers, could hit an Arthur/Lancelot novel, and then some more recent works like The Lord of the Rings and some other current fantasy novels).

I'd like to hear some opinions on what might be good books to look into for either of those topics. I've got an impossibly long list of books I want to read someday, and there are probably many I wouldn't think to look into. Suggestions?

Monday, March 5, 2012

5 Songs That Made Me Want To Play Guitar

One of the blogs that I follow is I Can't Brain Today, and today's post covered the five songs that made him want to play guitar. It was great to get a chance to read what songs have inspired him musically, and it got me to thinking about some of the songs that stick out in my mind. Before I get into the songs, I'll give a little bit of background.

No, I don't currently own a guitar. I borrowed one for a few weeks last year and enjoyed it in the brief time I could spare between work and homework, and it confirmed my belief that I want to learn to play and someday get decent at it. And I'm sure I won't surprise too many people when I declare that Guitar Hero really is what got me to thinking about playing the instrument.

I spent months of agony going from struggling on Medium difficulty, moving into frustration by adding the fifth fret, and eventually getting to the point where I could hold my own on Expert with most songs. It comes as no surprise that, during the course of the day, three of the five songs that have stuck for this list were featured in the first Guitar Hero game. It really sparked my desire to play the guitar, and all three of the songs are old classic rock songs.

Hopefully by this time next year I'll be able to write about learning to play the guitar on a real instrument. At this point I'm not picky between Acoustic or Electric, although ultimately I'll be getting an Electric Guitar to rock out on.

I think when we buy a house it'll have to have good insulation in at least one room...

5. Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple

This was the song that inspired me to pick up the Guitar Hero instrument and give the game a chance. The intro to this song is recognizable to almost anyone who has listened to any Classic Rock. In the short time I was borrowing a guitar, I learned those chords and enjoyed playing just a few seconds of the awesomeness that is this song. I can hardly wait until the day when I can play the full song. Then I will know that the Guitar Hero has been replaced by a real Guitarist.

4. Cocaine - Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is one of the greatest guitar geniuses to ever live. In my early years I had a cassette of Slowhand, and I played the first side of it to death. This song is anti-drug if you listen to the lyrics, the guitar in it is memorable, and the solo is fantastic.

3. Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd

It is hard to choose a favorite Pink Floyd song, but the guitar solos on this song have always been something I was fond of. I have to confess that I've tried to vocally imitate the guitar solos when driving in the car, or while listening to this song while home alone.

2. Texas Flood - Stevie Ray Vaughn

This is a slow, bluesy song by another one of my favorite guitarists. But if you listen to how fast some of those guitar parts are, you realize his fingers are blazing even on this song. If I had to pick a favorite song overall by Stevie Ray Vaughn it would be Pride and Joy, but even the guitar part on that can't compare to this one. This was probably my second-most played song on Guitar Hero, and I loved every minute of frantic struggle to hit all the colored frets almost as much as when I played...

1. Crossroads - Cream

Yes, this is another great guitar part by Eric Clapton. His early years were absolutely brilliant, and his solos reflected how great his talent was. I've read that Cream was marketed to be a band that was better live than in album. Which is probably why a fair portion of their "Wheels of Fire" album contains live tracks, including this song. If you like great guitar solos, you can't go wrong with live versions of Cream because they are all incredible.

So there you have it, the five songs that have inspired me more than any others to learn the guitar. It surprised me, when I got to thinking about it, that my favorite two Bands/Artists didn't make the cut with any of their tracks, but David Bowie and Queen don't need epic guitar parts to make great music.

What are some of the songs whose guitar parts stick out to you?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hero Wanted?

I love the Fantasy genre. I love knights and dragons and magic and elves and all of that stuff. I love the idea that one person, or a small group of people, can help save the world. Even the most unlikely person could end up being a hero, like Frodo and Sam. Maybe part of me hopes that I can accomplish similar deeds in today's world.

But then I got to thinking about something while I was working out at Planet Fitness today: I'd never make it as a hero.

I'm out of shape. I don't eat very well some days and my daily fitness regiment is more like an "on occasion" affair. Which usually means a week or two of doing it and then a month or two of not. It is a lot easier to just enjoy life and utilize that hour doing other things.

Like reading or video games or watching The Biggest Loser. Great choice, trading active for sedentary.

Everyone knows the Number One rule in Zombieland:

And I know I wouldn't last if the zombie apocalypse occurred today.

If the world needed me to strap on a suit of armor and ride a horse for miles and then face off with an evil wizard, I would probably fail somewhere between putting on armor and riding the first mile on a horse. If I had to fight with a sword for more than a minute or two I'd probably end up dropping my sword from exhaustion.

Goblin Horde: 1, Knight David: 0

I'm not anywhere near the physical shape I should be. I'm overweight and at the rate I'm going I am more likely to look like this

Than I am to look like this

Is this madness? No, this is the sad reality of life as it stands. And I know I'm not the only one struggling with the same problems. Unhealthy lifestyles have become an epidemic in this nation, from what I can see. And I won't stand for it any more.

In July I might not look quite as good as Leonidas or any of the Spartans did. But I intend to look more like that than someone who belongs on The Biggest Loser.

And if I can complete this quest, maybe slaying a dragon or saving the world won't be such a challenge in comparison.