A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Literary Magazines with Themes

Magazines with themes or prompts fascinate me, as they expose the many, many ways our minds work differently to produce so many stories from one kernel of an idea.  Here's a list of theme magazines, if you want to read some good stories or take on their writing challenge.  All listings are paying markets.

Magazines:

-THEMA Literary Journal—This print magazine publishes quarterly.  Upcoming themes:
            "Who keeps it tidy?" (Due November 1, 2011),
            "White wine chilling" (March 1, 2012). 
                                    Submissions Guidelines.    

-The First Line—Each story submitted to this print magazine must begin with the same line.  Next first lines:
            "Edwin spotted them the moment he stepped off the train." 
            (Due August 1, 2011)
            "It had been a long year."  (Due November 1, 2011)
                                    Submissions Guidelines


-Enchanted Conversation:  A Fairytale MagazineEach online issue explores a single fairytale in the form of poetry or short stories (less than 1500 words preferred).
            "Little Red Riding Hood" (Sept 30, 2011)
                                    Submissions Guidelines

-10 Flash Quarterly— As a speculative flash fiction e-journal, they only accept submissions between 800 and 1000 words, in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and suspense.    
            "It's the end of the world as we know it."  (October 1, 2011)
                                    Submissions Guidelines

-Wily Writers—Another speculative magazine, posting short stories (up to 5000 words) in text and audio format.  Submissions must fall into specific subgenres
            Halloween Horror.        (July 31, 2011)
            Mythpunk         (August 31, 2011)
            Lovecraftian Horror      (September 30, 2011)
            Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic (October 31, 2011)
            High Fantasy Adventure            (November 31, 2011) 
                                    Submissions Guidelines 
 
Other prompts:

Easystreetprompts.com posts video and photography prompts, as well as random words to get you thinking.  Click here for my favorite picture. 

Nanowrimo.org has amazing forums.  The site is most active in November, which is National Novel Writing Month, 30 days in which thousands of participants try to write an entire novel of at least 50,000 words.  The forums, however, get traffic all year round.  You can find everything from plot doctoring to hilariously bad mock science fiction story lines to questions—and answers—about how many giraffes you could fit in a submarine, or what the term for "food fight" is in Greek.  On the "word wars, prompts, and sprints" forum, you can read and contribute to various threads where people leave creative premises or first lines, and pose intriguing "what if" questions.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Best Czech Republic Travel Websites

I'm travel-obsessed.  The Czech Republic, where I've lived twice, has a great website for their centralized train and bus system:  www.idos.cz. It's super user-friendly and efficient—better even than Germany's—and when I lived there I found myself playing with it like a toy, planning trips from one destination to another, checking out prices and the best routes and times.  Crazy, huh?  Well, I'm crazy about travel in the Czech Republic.

If you're planning a trip to Eastern Europe, or if you're an expat in the Czech Republic, read my article at Helium.com about online resources:  Best Czech Republic Travel Websites

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Rogue's Home" by Hilari Bell

When I finished Rogue's Home:  A Knight and Rogue Novel by Hilari Bell, I flipped over to the author's biography on the book jacket.  There, hardly believing my eyes, I read how the Knight and Rogue novels are her favorites of all she's written.

I by no means dislike the two I've read:  The Last Knight and Rogue's Home.  The two main characters' distinct personalities play well off each other, there's just enough wit to make it light-hearted without losing the good drama of a more serious piece, and I always enjoy watching a story unfold from different points of view. 

I quite like the odd friendship between Michael—a disinherited nobleman with unrealistic ideals and an often-inconvenient sense of honor—and Fisk—a street-wise and self-preserving former con man and thief. 

The banter is fun, the characters unusual, and Bell showcases the effects of prejudice without sounding preachy.

The mystery is somewhat hard to follow, due mainly to Bell's introducing too many persons of interest at one time, then not referencing them well enough when they come up later in the story.  I suspected the villain from early on, but had no idea about the motive, which turned out fairly convoluted.  I'm not the biggest fan of the fantasy/mystery genre mash, so perhaps that colored my view of the book.  I enjoyed it, but nothing more. 

So when Hilari Bell claimed the series is her favorite, it shocked me.  I've also read The Prophecy, The Goblin Wood, Fall of a Kingdom, Rise of a Hero, and Forging the Sword, all by Hilari Bell, all of which I enjoyed more than the Knight and Rogue novels.  The last three comprise the Farsala series, which is without question my favorite:  a clever, engrossing, wow-I-couldn't-write-that trilogy played out on a beautifully imagined epic stage where the cast of characters is still small enough we really get to know them.  The historical and social commentary is fascinating too.  One of my favorite sets of books ever.  Far and away superior to the Knight and Rogue novels, in my view. 

Isn't it nice the world has space for so many opinions?  

My rating:  3+

Check out her website, buy Rogue's Home or discover Fall of a Kingdom.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Graceling", by Kristin Cashore

I loved Graceling.  When I read it last fall, I'd been wasting time with a lot of rather dull novels, and this I actually made myself ration so I could prolong the enjoyment. 

I liked the characters.  Yes, Katsa is violent, but that's part of the horrors inflicted on her by her talent (grace) and her ruthless uncle's use of it.  She does struggle to gain mastery over the violence, which is a fight many people can relate to.  I'm often annoyed by superhuman characters, but I could accept her unequaled speed and strength and resistance to the elements, because her grace explains it.  My only critcism is that Katsa's character is so well defined at the beginning, but fades a bit, turning her more normal.  It's hard to keep up such a strong personality, and she does change and grow during the course of the story, but her changing and the author's relaxing of her personality don't quite match up.

I loved Po's casual arrogance and sense of humor.  His grace is intriguing and ethically difficult, and provides for very good conflict. 

The world-building completely satisfied me, as I'm the type who thrives on pseudo-medieval settings.  The fantasy element intrigued me, but didn't drown me in mysticism.  I wasn't confused for the first thirty pages, as is the real danger of much fantasy.

The traveling went on a little long—like many other fantasy novels—but overall it was the type of book I didn't want to put down. 

I've read some negative reviews railing on the poor quality of the prose.  Though I participate in several writers' critique groups and find myself not enjoying reading as much anymore, because I tend to pick it apart, I have to admit that I didn't even notice any problems in Graceling.  I was too engrossed in the story.

My hesitation in recommending it without a warning is Katsa's firmly—almost militantly—anti-marriage philosophy.  She vehemently espouses the idea that two people can love each other more truly without the fetters of marriage.  I believe this thought-provoking stance adds to her character, but many people may object to the glorification of premarital relations in a YA novel.  Parents should be aware.

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore:  Robin Hoodish societies, believable magic, fascinating premise, tingling romance:  a great read. 

My rating:  5

See her blog or buy the book at Amazon.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Vartovna View Tower—A Czech Hike

I love the hiking in the Czech Republic.  Well-marked, color-coded trails branch off everywhere.  In Wallachia, a peaceful corner in the northeast part of the country, low mountains, lush woods, sunny ridgetop panoramas, and clear little rivers make hiking a delight.  Here are some pictures from the hike to Vartovna, a popular view tower near the village of Liptál (near Vsetín).  It's one of the most easily accessible of the towers in the region, and also one of the most modern.  As you can see from the pictures, it doesn't matter when you're there:  hiking is in vogue any season.
Wallachia, Czech Republic
Vartovna view tower near Liptal, Czech Republic
Vartovna tower in winter (well...March)
View from the tower, Vartovna, Czech Republic
Winter views, Vartovna.
Czech Trails, Vartovna
If you go:

The trails around here aren't flat, but if you take your time, they're not difficult. 

Vartovna is a 2-3 km hike each way from Liptál, a village between Vsetín and Zlín.  Look on www.idos.cz and put your destination as Liptál,Sirákov,Lůžko (for the green trail) or Liptál,Sirákov,motorest (for the yellow trail).  These are the first and second stops after the center of Liptál, if you're coming from Vsetín.  From the Lůžko stop, you'll have to backtrack along the road toward Vsetín for a few hundred yards until you find the road and trail heading south.  Be aware that not all Vsetin-Zlin buses stop at these minor stops, but most will let you on or off at the center of Liptál. 

If you go to www.mapy.cz and click on the box in the top left corner, then on turistická, you can find interactive colored hiking maps online.

After scaling the tower and admiring the views, you can return to Liptál or take one of the other various trails that split off from the mountaintop crossroads.  One possible route is the green trail to Valašská Polanka (about 5 km) to where you can catch a bus or train.  The blue trail leads all the way back to Vsetín (about 10 km more), along airy ridges and dark woods.